Aley Chubeza #32 – August 16-18 2010

An important message:

As I enter my ninth month of pregnancy, I will be handing over my various jobs to loyal stand-ins. Melissa will take charge of phone calls, e-mails and customer service, and she will gradually begin her work this week. I request your assistance, patience and cooperation to make the transition smooth. For our part, we promise to check e-mail and phone messages daily. Please keep in mind that messages regarding changes in delivery dates and other requests for your boxes must arrive by the morning before the scheduled delivery date (i.e., Sunday for Monday boxes, Tuesday for Wednesday deliveries). The most convenient way for us to communicate is by e-mail, but if there is an urgent matter, text messages are an option as well. We can’t always answer the phone or access our e-mail.

And please be understanding if (when) mistakes or glitches occur. Of course we are   happy to receive any advice you may offer.

Many thanks for your cooperation and assistance!

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Okra- the Cinderella of the Vegetable World

This afternoon I received an e-mail from veteran clients, with “a small request, if possible. We love okra, we adore okra! And it has not been in our basket yet. Among the variety of vegetables that we get, is there a possibility to include it?” I smiled to myself, happy to meet confirmed okra lovers, the kinds who enjoy receiving it. The myth is that people of Ashkenazi origin can’t eat okra and do not appreciate it, but as a descendent of a German father who can eat okra for all three daily meals, I can vouch that fact being wrong. At our house too, okra is very much loved. The girls would rather I chop up the raw pods so I can serve them “stars” which they munch on. We adults prefer it cooked, roasted or stir-fried.

Okra began its domesticated path in the world over 1,000 years ago in tropical Africa, in the Ethiopia-Eritrea-Sudan area, where it can still be found growing wild today. From there it crossed the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia and took off to North Africa, the Middle East and India. It is not clear how this journey occurred, and there are very mysterious periods within okra history, but it became an officially loved food in all those countries. Okra arrived in Europe, compliments of the Muslim Moors in the 12th century. It made its debut in the new continent, America, by two sources: African slaves brought to work in the colonial colonies carried okra to Brazil and South America, and simultaneously French settlers brought it to Louisiana. Over the past decades it became a vaunted vegetable in the Asian kitchen, specifically the Japanese. So one does not have to be Egyptian or Greek to value this vegetable.

Okra is unique in its genealogy. It is a cousin of the chubeza–the mallow–and belongs as well to the Malvaceae family, which also includes cotton, hibiscus and hollyhock. Not many members of the family are edible, but they are rather beautiful, with large, beautiful flowers. This is what the okra flower looks like:

But despite its beauty, some people are put off by this vegetable. The reason generally cited is its “texture,” or in other words: “that slimy stuff that oozes out when it’s cooked.” That’s a pity, because that “slimy stuff” holds the okra in its Cinderella state, still in rags, waiting to be discovered for all its charms. There are many ways to diminish the slime, which I will get to soon, but let us first discover the charms of Cinderella.

One of the most amazing things about okra is that it can be used in a great variety of ways, some of which aren’t fully utilized today. We usually cook, roast or fry the young pods (3-5 days old), which is, of course, great. It is rich in vitamins K, A and C, and with folic acid, calcium, magnesium and potassium. The dietary fibers aid in preventing constipation and in stabilizing blood sugar levels by slowing down the process of sugar absorption in the digestive system. They also absorb cholesterol and remove stomach acids containing the toxins that did not pass through the liver’s filtering system. Its dietary fibers are unique in that they feed the good intestinal flora.

Yet its assets are not only in the pod fibers, but also in its little seeds: the oil produced from them is quite healthy and unsaturated, with characteristics resembling the lauded olive oil. The tiny seeds contain vegetal protein, like soybeans, and they are rich in tryptophan and contain amino acids- a very important combination for vegetarians. Ground okra seeds were used in the past (and in some places, in the present) as caffeine-free substitutes for coffee, like the chicory root.

As it matures, okra’s fibers grow more and more rigid (which anyone who ever tried to chew a mature pod can attest to) and hold an unfulfilled potential as raw material for the rope and paper industry.

So what about that “slime”? It too can be efficiently used to thicken soups and other dishes (sometimes okra pods are dried up and ground to be used for thickening, similar to gelatin) and some say it can be beneficial to heal wounds and soothe burns, like the gel inside the aloe vera plant.

But if you still would like to reduce the sliminess in cooking, there are several things you can do:

– Leave the pod whole (cut off the stem, but do not open the pod)

– Prepare quickly and easily by stir frying or frying, not by a long cooking with liquids.

– Combine with acidic foods: tomatoes, lemon juice or vinegar.

Another surprising and attractive use for okra is in arts and crafts. It can be used to make interesting dragons, or cut in its width to make gentle star-shaped stampers. Here are some pictures:

Have an interesting, adventurous summer,
Alon, Bat Ami, Melissa and the Chubeza team

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This week’s basket includes:

Monday: edamame or okra or cowpea, cherry tomatoes, yard long bean, cilantro, pumpkin, tomatoes, basil / parsley, onions, red peppers, potatoes, corn

In the large box, in addition: eggplants, more cherry tomatoes, melon or butternut squash, dill

Wednesday: pumpkin, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, corn, yard long bean or cowpea, cilantro or dill, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, popcorn

In the large box, in addition: okra, red peppers, butternut squash

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Okra Recipes (I tried to find easy recipes, low on slime)

A special, spicy idea: Okra Croutons (from a great cookbook that Nati gave me: Vegetarian Soul Food by Angela S. Madris)

Ingredients:
1 kilogram okra, sliced thinly
1 c. corn flour
1 t. salt
½ t. ground cumin
¼ t. cayenne pepper

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 190 degrees C. Rinse okra in a colander, drain and dry.
In a plastic bag, mix okra with cornflower, ½ t. salt, cumin and pepper. Tie bag and shake well.
Grease a baking pan with olive oil, spread okra in a uniform layer across the pan, and sprinkle olive oil over okra.
Bake for 10 minutes. Mix okra and sprinkle it with a bit more olive oil. Bake for an additional 15 minutes or until okra becomes golden brown and crisp. Sprinkle with remaining ½ t. salt.

Fried Okra, East-African Style (from the same excellent book as above)

Ingredients:
3 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 T. garlic powder
2 t. curry powder
1 t. freshly-ground black pepper
12 small-to-medium okra pods, with sharp edges cut, but not the stems
1 c. vegetable oil
1 t. salt

Preparation
In a small mixing bowl, combine lemon juice, garlic powder, turmeric, curry powder and pepper. Score okra lengthwise with a deep slit, so that it is in two parts, connected by the stem. Cover the okra well, inside and out, with spice mixture. Attach both halves to each other. Heat oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high flame until hot but not smoking.  Fry okra for 3-4 minutes or until it browns.
Drain okra on a plate covered with paper towel to absorb the oil. Scatter with salt.

Genevieve and Barry, okra lovers, sent me these two recipes:

Okra in Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:
½ kg okra
1 onion, sliced
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic
½ kg tomatoes, chopped
Salt and pepper
Juice of ½ lemon
1 teaspoon sugar
A small bunch parsley or cilantro, chopped

Trim off the stems of the okra and rinse well. Fry the onion in the oil until golden. Add the garlic and fry until the aroma rises. Add the okra and sauté gently for about 5 minutes, turning over the pods.
Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, lemon, and sugar and simmer 15-20 minutes, or until the okra is tender and the sauce reduced. Stir in the parsley or kusbara and cook a minute more.
It’s delicious cold or hot.

Sweet and Sour Okra

Ingredients:
½ kg okra
Olive oil
½-1 tablespoon sugar
Salt and pepper
Juice of 1 small lemon
[Optional: 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped, and 1½-2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds]

Trim off the stems of the okra and rinse well. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. Add the okra and sauté gently for about 5 minutes, turning each pod over.
Add sugar, salt and pepper, the lemon juice, and just enough water to cover the okra.
Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the okra is tender and the liquid has reduced. Raise the heat if necessary to reduce the liquid at the end.
[Optional: heat the garlic and coriander in oil in a small pan, stirring, for a minute or two, until the garlic just begins to color. Stir this in with the okra and cook a few minutes more before serving]

And one more recipe:

Baked popcorn okra

Aley Chubeza #31 – August 9-11 2010 – Rosh Chodesh Elul

To Every Vegetable There is a Season

I hope that the heat wave will ease this week and that on Wednesday, as the month of Elul is upon us, autumn scents will tantalize the air at last. Or at least a hint of those scents… For our part, we are in complete sync with Elul, starting our chorus once more, beginning to seed carrots and beets and green beans in preparation for autumn. The first fall plantings will wait another ten days, as the cauliflower and cabbage will only arrive around August 20, and the rest of the planting and seeding–the major quantities–begin at the end of August, just in time for the new Hebrew year.

But with all due respect to the scents of autumn, let’s put in one last word about this month’s heat and the seasonality of vegetables. Many have asked me how we manage the heat, and also, how do the vegetables manage. Are we constantly watering them? How do we chill the air (sprinklers)? The answer, surprising enough, is that there is not much difference in either their watering and or in their condition, and truthfully, the heat has not affected them. On second thought, since summer vegetables actually grow in the summertime, it’s less puzzling.

By this season most of our vegetables are already big and well-set in the earth. We don’t plant much during the months of July and August; mostly we harvest existing plants and watch others grow. The existing vegetables are already firmly growing in the field- the pepper bushes have been trimmed and trellised; the beanstalks are climbing high; the tomatoes are bountiful; the okra and soy are ripening in larger quantities; the pumpkins are being gathered to a big and impressive pile; and the eggplants are blooming again, bearing their chubby fruits. This crowd is not easily bothered by heavy heat waves, high temperatures and extreme humidity: summer is their home and their time.

Most of our real challenges have to do with caring for our young’uns: the lettuce, onions, and tomatoes that are being planted now, the corn that is still being seeded. The youth receive initial watering by hose to grant them a first portion of water, easing their absorption. We have to keep our eyes wide open and make sure the earth around them does not dry up. It seems like the young vegetables are acclimating easily- the lettuce under the shade net, the tomatoes in the open. The corn seeds love high temperatures (it’s harder in the beginning of the season, when they need to sprout in cool weather), and within a day or two we start seeing the green sprouts.

The lettuce plants aren’t too happy, though. Last week we thought they got a little scalded- white spots appeared on their leaves, perhaps a reaction to the heat and acute radiation (or because of last week’s solar storm? Who knows?) On the other hand, the fungus that attacks more during hot weather slows down somehow when it gets really hot, so some good does come out of a strong sun.

Aside from the vegetables that you have already met in your boxes over the summer, you will also be receiving the popcorn, which arrives after its fresh sibling–We have to wait until it dries up and the corncobs harden in order for them to reach the proper level of crispness for popping. An additional friend we are expecting is the sweet potato, whose bulbs are already becoming rounded under the earth, covered in a magnificent carpet of tangled leaves and intertwined with beautiful purple flowers.

Here is what it looks like:

In your boxes, soon!

Wishing you a fresh breath of “normal for the season” temperatures, and an autumn-like month of Elul for us all,

Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team

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This week’s basket includes: (We still encounter a shortage in cucumbers and were unable to buy them this week as well. Hopefully this period will end soon)

Monday: edamame, yard long bean, mint, butternut squash, tomatoes, basil, onions, lettuce, potatoes, corn/melon, eggplants – small boxes only.

In the large box, in addition: cherry tomatoes, cowpeas or okra, pumpkin, parsley

Wednesday: butternut squash, lettuce or basil, tomatoes, onions, yard long bean or edamame, cilantro, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, dill, peppers, corn or melon or eggplants – small boxes only

In the large box, in addition: okra or cowpea, pumpkin, eggplant, melon or corn

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August vacation has had its way with us too—-This week we’re skipping the recipes, but we’ll see you here in the Recipe Corner next week!

Aley Chubeza #30 – August 2-4 2010

A hopeful introduction

For over a year-and-a-half, Alon Gilad, a veteran customer, has joined us on Mondays to help us harvest and pack. After years of working in hi-tech, he dared do what most people only dream of, to follow his heart. He began to study dog training, enrolling in a program   run in cooperation with the tnu l’chayot lichyot (Let the Animals Live) organization to train abandoned dogs and improve their chances of finding new homes. These charming dogs are located in K’far Ruth, near Modi’in.

Alon’s attitude towards dogs is so similar to his character: an affirmed optimist who always believes things can be improved and fixed, who works hard, yet calmly, and with confidence. Upon graduation, Alon began training dogs himself. You can find details on his website.

We extend him much gratitude, and our wishes for good luck.

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Edamame, mama!

Not a word about the weather this week!

OK, maybe one word. One vegetable that’s truly been enjoying the heat is our green soybean, the edamame. Unlike human beings, the edamame does not complain about the heat, it adjusts well to various types of soil, consumes relatively small amounts of water, and most important- does most of its own fertilization to improve the ground’s fertility for future crops. It comes as no surprise, then, that in Chinese culture the edamame has been considered one of the five most sacred types of grain for some 5,000 years, essential to Chinese culture (together with rice, wheat, barley and millet). It was so declared by the legendary Caesar Shennong, the divine farmer, who is considered the father of Chinese agriculture.

The edamame’s origins are in North China, from a wild plant named Glycine Ussuriensis. The process of soy domestication, probably one of the first crops to be cultivated by man, began many years ago around the 11th century BC. Soy is both food and a medicinal plant. By the first century, soy arrived to south and central China and to Korea. By the 7th century, it could be found in Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Burma, Nepal and North India. It took till the 18th century to arrive in the west.

It is amazing to ponder what this ancient crop had to go through from the time it was grown in Chinese fields over 5000 years ago, mainly to be used as green manure to improve the soil and improve the earth for future crops. Today soy is also used as glue, dye, synthetic fiber, soap, ink, candles, lacquer, a rubber substitute, and of course, bio-diesel. From a sacred and dignified seed to a genetically engineered, labeled, patented prisoner.

Like corn, almost everything we eat contains soy, from baby food formula to the popular soy oil, through meat and fish (soy is one of the components in animal and fish food),  soy flour in various pastries, soy protein in milk substitutes, soy fibers and soy lecithin in almost every processed food that requires pasting, inflating and “modeling.” It is almost strange to say that food “contains” soy, as it in fact contains various separated components, taken apart and processed to their final drop of protein. Can it actually be called soy? I don’t know. Too philosophical a question for me on these hot days (not a word about the weather). To me it sounds more like amputated, soul-less body parts…

But everything starts in the green fields. The soy belongs to the legume or Faboidae family, whose distinguished members include beans, peas, chickpeas, black-eyed peas and others. It takes around four months for the plant to fully ripen, harden, dry up and produce brown seeds that look like this:

At this stage they are picked to begin their final journey, during which they will be disassembled, extracted, bloated, fermented, ground, distilled and submitted to other tortures. Some of our plants in Chubeza will also be left to mature to this dry state, but for an opposite aim: to preserve the seeds and produce seeds for next year, which will be planted to yield more green elevated plants that will grow to take their part in improving the soil. Instead of sophisticated processing, we are preserving the simplicity. Instead of disassembling, we are promoting the wholeness of the plants.

But most of our little soy poles are picked when they are green and still deserving of the title edamame (eda- twig, mame- bean). Some of you may remember when we used to send the edamame on its twigs, a trick Suwet taught us, based on how they are sold in the Far East. Like this:

Soybeans in their natural and original form have many advantages: they are rich in protein, containing 60% of the recommended daily consumption (and this protein is similar to the protein in meat). Such protein is responsible for stabilizing blood sugar levels, and assists in reducing the risk of diabetes. In addition, edamame contains vitamins C, A and K, and such minerals as iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium. It is rich in dietary fibers (40% of recommended daily consumption) that can latch onto toxins and cleanse them from the body. Soy contains lecithin, which assists in balancing cholesterol levels and can prevent atherosclerosis. Lecithin is also an important component for weight loss, as it assists in breaking up fats. In addition, edamame contains choline and inositol, elements which improve memory function and the smooth transmission of receptors within the nervous system.

Soy protein also includes sapogenins, renowned as an effective, powerful influence for preventing cancer and cardiac diseases. Edamame is rich in isoflavones, the plant form of estrogen, and can improve menopause-related symptoms: hot flashes, heart disease and the loss of bone density, specifically in the spine and thighs. In addition, edamame includes a peptide called lunasin which reduces the amount of cholesterol in the body: on one hand, it delays production of cholesterol; on the other, it assists in reducing the level of bad cholesterol (LDL).

Upon its arrival to western world, soy received a place of honor in the realm of natural food, and like many trends, became most admired and considered a “health bomb.” Can billions of Chinese be wrong?

Over the past several years, some controversy has developed between the soy advocates, supported by the good health of Chinese and Japanese (and lots of cash… over 50% of the soy in the world is produced by American companies; over 70% of the products in your local supermarket somehow contain soy) and the scientists who wonder whether so much hormone, even if it is vegetal, is indeed healthy. The latter blame soy for increasing various types of cancer, changes in the function of the thyroid gland, damaging fertility and brain activity in men, causing congenital defects and even the early sexual development of western girls. Some of the blame is placed on the genetic engineering of most of the soy grown worldwide (most of which is intended to bolster soy against various herbicides), and the excess spraying as a result. Although others claim that the fermentation process most soybeans undergo in the Far East to produce such products as tempe, tofu, miso, etc., destroys many of its naturally dangerous components, making it safer for use. The jury is still out on this debate, and the evidence is not conclusive enough to make the call.

And as we are left to ponder the problems of totality, extremism, exaggeration and wholeness, why not nosh on some delicious green soybeans, the Oriental snack, as we vote for moderation (of weather as well…)

Wishing us all a cool, peaceful week,
Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team _________________________________

This week’s basket includes: (We weren’t able to buy cucumbers this week)

Monday: red peppers, yard long bean or cowpea or edamame, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, pumpkin, tomatoes, parsley, green onions, lettuce, potatoes, corn

In the large box, in addition: okra, melons, eggplants

Wednesday: Pumpkin, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, corn/red peppers/green peppers, cilantro or parsley, edamame, potatoes, mint, melon or butternut squash – small boxes only, Yard long bean or cowpea – small boxes only

In the large box, in addition: okra, green onions, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, basil

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Edamame Recipes and more….

The easiest way to cook edamame is to blanch them for several minutes in boiling water (or, alternately, to steam them), sprinkle a bit of salt, and enjoy noshing away. But here are several more sophisticated recipes for those who desire to make a real effort:

Roasted Edamame and Herbed Edamame

 

Lemon Potato & Edamame Salad

 

Roasted Corn and Edamame Salad

 

Edamame salad

 

And let us not forget the rest of our box for this week – here’s a ratatouille recipe Mitch sent me this week (thanks!) – a way to combine many of your box’s ingredients in one dish:

Veggie ratatouille:

Ingredients

* 1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
* 1 pound small Italian eggplants, cut into 1-inch cubes
* Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 1 pound zucchini, cut crosswise into 1-inch sections
* 3 anchovy fillets, finely minced
* 2 onions, finely chopped
* 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
* 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
* Leaves from 1/2 bunch fresh basil, coarsely chopped
* Leaves from 4 fresh thyme sprigs
* 2 pints cherry tomatoes
* 1 dried chili
* Splash of balsamic vinegar

Directions

Line a large platter with paper towels. Heat 1/3 cup olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the eggplant, season generously with salt and pepper, and let that cook down for 10 to 12 minutes, until the eggplant is soft and wilted. Remove the eggplant from the pan and onto a platter to drain. Next stop, zucchini: cook it the same way in 1/4 cup oil, then add it to the platter with the eggplant.

Add another 1/4 cup olive oil to the pan, then the anchovies, onions, garlic and herbs. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until the onions get nice and caramelized. Add the tomatoes and cook that down for 10 to 12 minutes, until pulpy. Return the eggplant and zucchini to the pan, crack open the chili, and add that too. Season with salt and pepper and let the ratatouille cook slowly for about 20 minutes, until the mixture is soft, mushy and juicy; you want all the flavors to come together. Stir in the vinegar and let cool to room temperature.

Aley Chubeza #29 – Tu B’Av, July 26-28 2010

Reminder: We’re now taking orders for Yiftah’s bi-weekly baking. You can read about Yiftah’s hand-baked, sprouted bread products here. Please send your orders by Friday.
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A Time to Love…

“Half of Sivan, Tamuz, and Half of Av: Summer
(Talmud, Baba Metziah 106b)

In an act of interesting, humorous timing (and an inadvertent Internet glitch), the Hebrew Shavuot newsletter arrived in your mailboxes on Sunday… perhaps to remind us all when this summer commenced. The Talmud may promise us that we are at the end of summer, but immediately afterwards we are bestowed another warm season, as the verse continues: “Half of Av, Elul, and half of Tishrei – Heat.” Like everything else, our sages contested each other even on the question of weather forecasts. There were those who considered the middle of Av to be a break in the heat– till then they would chop trees for the altar, and “On the 15th of Av, they completed chopping wood for the Temple Altar” (Ta’anit 31a). From the middle of Av there was more humidity and they feared the trees would become wormy and ruined. Others vehemently claimed that “the end of the summer is more difficult than summer” (Yoma 29a), as Rashi explains: “Elul, the end of the summer, is more difficult than the month of Tammuz, as the air and our bodies are already heated from summer, and even the smallest heat can damage them.”

Perhaps both opinions melt into one simple daily forecast: hot and humid. True, the heat is already accumulated in the body and even the coolness of morning is temporary–before 9:00 AM we remember the heat still stored inside from yesterday. And the humidity that worms within the trees definitely adds to the heaviness. At some point, the body turns indifferent to the mass of heat and humidity and simply works out of inertia.

And in the midst of all this heat and humidity comes the 15th of Av- a day of joy and dance, a day of grape harvest and fig gathering, a day we lift barriers to connect, a day of forgiveness and renewal. And with the general renewal, Chubeza, too, is refreshed this week with a new Hebrew-language website. As always, special thanks to Talia, our wizard of technical support who has been working for weeks to translate this beauty to technology and back. There are still some bugs (the Sunday newsletter mailing, for instance), for which we request your patience and indulgence. Please be our quality control team– let us know what you think about the site and what calls for improvement. The English-language website version is planned to be launched in one of our “stage 2” missions. Stay tuned.

The 15th of Av is the right day of the year to inaugurate our site, which we use to maintain our dialogue and connection with you in building a community-based farm. Historically, it is a middle-of-the-summer holiday, a partner of Tu B’Shvat which took place exactly half a year ago, when we celebrated the beginning of the bloom. Now we are enjoying the season that marks the end of this process: summer is the peak of the grape and fig harvest, and the other fruits also massively ripening on the trees. The Hebrew word for summer, קיץ (kayitz) was used in the past to describe the season of fruit harvesting, specifically figs.

This time of fruit-in-abundance required much work, and the entire community would pitch in for the grape harvest and for picking other ripening fruits. Those who ever spent time on Kibbutz may remember the general “recruitment” to various tasks in the orchards or fields. I am assuming the atmosphere in times of yore was similar: a large group of young men and women working together, and to ease the burden of early rising and a heavy workload, they passed the time joking, singing and flirting. This happiness makes it is easier to bear the heat and humidity, as the companionship and the sweetness of the fruit distracts the mind from temperature and nurtures love to bloom.

In the popular description of Tu B’Av, the maidens of Israel donned white and went out to dance in the vineyards. But today’s countryside is decked in white of yet a different kind—the beautiful chatzav flowers (“squill” in English, from the hyacinth family; the traditional harbingers of autumn) are in bloom, utilizing the little moisture that has begun to accumulate in the air to dress up the country in white. It’s not the colorful festivity of springtime, but rather the cleanliness of new beginnings, the hope for cooler weather. The chatzav is so impressive in its bold bloom. The chatzav bursts into flower every year around Tu B’Av, as Israeli nature religiously follows the lunar calendar. This year both Tu B’Av and the chatzav arrived early for the Gregorian sun-based calendar, with their debut at the end of July.

In our field, we feel the days moving forth with the first of our new vegetables. We welcomed the okra some few weeks ago, and our green soy (edamame) has begun ripening, with larger quantities to grow in time. This week we picked our first peppers, still green, but on their way to red ripening within a few weeks. The popcorn as well, whose yellow poles stand tall and erect in the field, is making signs that it has reached the picking stage, and we will soon examine its situation. Expect popping snacks over the next few weeks. (My Neta has been waiting for this from the beginning of summer, from the day she heard we planted the first corn seeds. She thinks sweet corn is OK, but asks again and again, “When will the popcorn be ready??”)

We are beginning to prepare for autumn, ordering plants and seeds for our August planting: the first broccoli and cauliflower, followed by the rest of the autumn and winter vegetables, which have already been ordered from the nursery. Of course, the summer vegetables are still going strong- tomatoes, which have been growing in abundance, cherry tomatoes, various types of beans, big pumpkins (only some of which have been picked; the rest are waiting in the field), squash, peppers, and of course, corn, which we hope to keep enjoying for a few more months.

And before we end, hearty congratulations and wishes for much happiness to Rona of the Yotav Dairy who is marrying Nir tonight (Monday). May you enjoy many happy, healthy years together!

Here’s to some coolness in the horizon!
Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team
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This week’s basket includes:

Monday: cucumbers, Thailand beans or black-eyed peas or okra, cherry tomatoes, melon, butternut squash, pumpkin, tomatoes, basil, scallions, lettuce, eggplant and dill.

In the large box, in addition: pumpkin, soy, potatoes

Wednesday: pumpkin, lettuce, tomatoes, eggplants or cucumbers, green onions, butternut squash, cilantro, okra or edamame, potatoes, red peppers, cherry tomatoes.

In the large box, in addition: melon, yard long beans or cowpeas, parsley
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This week, due to a problem with our Internet connection in the office, I wasn’t able to research recipes. My sincere apologies

Aley Chubeza # 28, July 19-21 2010

Eggplants

Our eggplants are beginning to emerge, and will now be with us from mid-summer till autumn, as the outdoor temperatures remind them of home: south India and Sri Lanka. The eggplant first migrated from India to Burma and then China. In ancient Chinese writings, the eggplant is mentioned as early as the fifth century. From there, they migrated to the Middle East, where they became prominent ingredients in the Middle Eastern cuisine. The Muslim Moors from North Africa who conquered Spain in the eighth century brought eggplants with them, and the Italians came to know the eggplants via commerce with Arab merchants in the 13th century.

The eggplant is one of the vegetables grown in hothouses during the cold season in order to maintain a constant supply to its Israeli aficionados. In our farm, we bid it farewell in winter and are happy to welcome it back with the great heat of summer. The eggplant is considered a long annual or biennial crop, renewing itself at the end of the winter in areas where the plants were left during wintertime. Two years ago, we visited Iris Ben-Zvi, a veteran organic farmer from Emek Yizrael, and learned how to keep eggplants in the field during wintertime: at the end of their yielding, we prune the plants and leave them in place for their winter sleep. In springtime they bloom again. We tried this method, but it was hard to test the results, as we were moving from our old plot to the new one and the eggplants were the victims. This in our first summer in the new field, at the end of which we will attempt this method once more.

We plant the eggplants in our field when weather is turning to spring, around April, when the zucchinis and pumpkins have already been in the field for a couple of months, and the tomatoes are a month old. This is when the first eggplant plants acclimatize in the ground, young and youthful with silky leaves. Two months later we plant the second round.

Two months after they are planted, they start growing beautiful purple flowers.

Within a few weeks, the flowers are fertilized and they grow round dark fruits. That is when we harvest. We prefer to pick them at a medium size and not wait for huge fruits that have passed their climax. To determine if the eggplant is ready, we measure it, but also apply a little pressure to see how soft it is. An unripe fruit will be hard and not respond to pressure from our fingers. A ripe fruit is more flexible, but not softer. It is important to pick them at this stage, as we do not grow them with support or trellising. Fruits that are too big will be heavy on the bushes, causing them to bend over, become crooked or even break under the weight.

The eggplant is one of the most fundamental vegetables in the Israeli kitchen. The first important test for basic essentials in the local kitchen is the long-term adaptation test, i.e., will it appear over the years in simple and popular recipes alongside “gourmet” recipes of prosperous times? The eggplant passes this test with flying colors: from various eggplant salads in nearly every meat meal, to eggplant-mocking chopped liver during austerity, from popular fast-food—the sabich–to high-falutin eggplant rolls in goat cheeses, eggplant cream, eggplant jam, etc.

There are many types of eggplants in the world, in various shapes and colors. In Israel we are acquainted with the big dark purple elliptic type, and over the past years, the striped zebra kind as well. But eggplants also come in green and yellow, in elongated or round forms and in various sizes. Here is a glimpse of the various shapes and colors of eggplants:

The name eggplant refers to the fact that the fruits of some 18th century European cultivars were yellow or white and resembled goose or hen’s eggs:

The name aubergine which is used in British English, is an adaptation of the French word, derived from Catalan albergínia (or the Arabic al-baðinjān).

The first eggplants, as members of the family Solanaceae family, were received cautiously and suspiciously by the Europeans. The solanaceae is family to the tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and other non-edible plants, some of which are lethal. Because of the eggplant’s genetics, they were suspected to be toxic as well. Even today there are those (macrobiotic enthusiasts, for instance) who do not eat vegetables from the solanacea family. The harmful components are not as prominent in eggplants, and therefore are not injurious to most people (they exist to a higher degree in the leaves and stems). It took some time until the Europeans could fully trust the eggplant, so in its early days it was used only as an ornamental plant, sporting its spacious leaves, impressive shape and lovely purple flowers.

Today the eggplant is acknowledged for its medicinal and nutritional benefits: it contains components which shrink blood vessels, and is therefore considered to be good for treating hemorrhoids and bleeding wounds. They encourage secretion of liver and gall bile and help in cases of anemia, constipation, stomach ulcers and infections of the large intestine. The eggplant contains antioxidants that can help prevent strokes and bleeding, and the phytochemical monoterpene which assists in preventing heart diseases and cancer. Researcher have been examining the eggplant’s possible influences on battling cancer by reducing the steroid hormones which encourage the development of tumors, and preventing the oxidization of cells that lead to cancer’s spread. A folk cure for scorpion bites is a slice of raw eggplant applied directly to the sting, and to relieve frostbite, eggplant tea is chilled to room temperature, and compresses placed upon the burn.

But the most popular use of the eggplant is for food: steamed, toasted, baked (if fried, use only a little oil, because its sponge-like texture makes it absorb large quantities of oil), chopped and diced, stuffed, sliced or cut into cubes. It goes nicely with cheeses, meat, tehina or tomatoes, and does very well on its own as well, with some coarse salt, lemon juice and parsley. Bon appetit!

Wishing you a fine summery week,

Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team

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In addition to eggplants, this week’s basket includes:

Monday: cucumbers, yard long bean/checkpea, cherry tomatoes, melon, butternut, tomatoes, parsley/cilantro/basil, leek/green onions, lettuce, eggplants, corn.

In the large box, in addition: zucchinis, okra, more cherry tomatoes.

Fruits boxes: small: figs, mango, apples, grapes. Large: watermelon/melon, grapes, figs, mango.

Wednesday:  corn, basil, tomatoes, eggplants, green onions, butternut, dill, long bean/checkpea, cherry tomatoes, melon, cucumbers

In the large box, in addition: potatoes, okra/ademame, zucchini/pumpkin.

Many eggplant recipes and one okra:

Imam Bayildi – stuffed eggplant

Easy Eggplant with Ginger

Eggplant Quiche With Tomatoes and Olives

Pasta with Roasted Eggplant and Tomato

Zucchini, Tomato, and Eggplant Risotto

Roasted eggplant

On Thursday, I got a call from Guy who enthused, “I have never seen or tasted okra like this in my entire life! So big, so purple, so sweet—and I come from a Greek household. I’ve eaten many an okra creation in my days, but there is no comparison!” He then told me that he’d prepared an okra-chicken dish that was so outstanding that he called his wife home from work to sample it. As always, I demanded the recipe, and Eli was kind enough to send both the recipe and a photo, below:

Chicken with Okra in Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

Olive oil
2 fresh chicken legs
1 large onion, cubed
2 garlic cloves, sliced in half
1 bag of authentic Chubeza purple okra, long and sweet (rinsed and whole; do not slice,  just remove the tip without damaging the okra)
3 cups water
1 heaping tablespoon tomato sauce
1 T. chicken-soup powder
1 pkg. Stevia (or 1 level T. sugar)
Salt
Pepper

Preparation:

In a flat pan, sauté the chicken legs with onion and garlic.
Cover and continue to sauté till browned.
Add okra and 3 cups water. Cover and wait 3 minutes.
Add 1 tablespoon tomato sauce, stir to mix ingredients smoothly, season with soup powder, salt and pepper.
When sauce bubbles, add package of Stevia to sauce (and remove after 5 minutes), then lower heat and cook over a low flame for at least one hour.

The result: an indescribable delicacy!