Oh Banana!

There is always something to learn. Right?

Recently I read “banana peels are good for gardens because they contain 42 percent potassium (abbreviated to its scientific name K), one of the three major components of fertilizer along with nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) and shown on fertilizer labels as NPK. In fact, banana peels have the highest organic sources of potassium.”

I have been gardening for years and never knew this till, well, now.

So, an experiment.

According to the Farmer’s Almanac:

“Homemade fertilizer teas, like “banana peel tea,” are all the rage right now because green-thumb gardeners know that these organic liquid fertilizers are the best way to get nutrients to your plants. While dry, granular fertilizers are a common way to add nutrients to your soil, liquid versions administer nutrients quickly, ensuring your plants get what they need to grow faster, have increased yields, and improved overall health.

“Banana peels are loaded with nutrients, such as potassium, phosphorus, and calcium, and when used as a fertilizer, help improve overall plant strength, stronger stems, stronger root development, and more robust fruits. While you can toss your banana peels directly into your garden (like in trench composting), making banana peel tea is a much more effective method of delivering those needed nutrients to your plants.

To Make: Keep a pitcher of water in your refrigerator about ¾ full. As you eat bananas, place your discarded peels in the pitcher until it’s full. After about a week, strain out the liquid and reserve for your tea. (As you can see above I simply used one banana peel in one of our beloved Mason Jars–Susan just loves anything to do with Mason Jars!)

To Apply: Dilute this concentrated liquid solution 5:1 (five parts water to one part tea) and apply to the base of your garden plants—this mixture is good for potassium-loving plants such as tomatoes and peppers. Note that this tea does not contain nitrogen, so it is not a complete fertilizer.

Bonus: Adding this liquid fertilizer to your garden is also great for deterring aphids, as they detest the smell of bananas!”

So, my friends, stay tuned.

I will be fertilizing my tomato plants with my banana peel tea tomorrow. Say a little prayer for me–and my tomato plants!

Picnic-Perfect Lemon-Tahini Slaw

I had two favorite cookbooks out on the kitchen table opened to recipes for coleslaw: The Taste of Summer and Earth To Table Every Day.

Susan saw them and asked what I was looking for. I told here and a few minutes later she came back into the kitchen and gave me a copy of this recipe. I am so happy she did. Delicious!

Quoting from Cooking at The New York Times:

“This vegan recipe fulfills the need for a creamy slaw that can sit out in the sun. Instead of dairy and raw egg yolks, this slaw is slicked with tahini and mustard. Capers, lemon zest and scallions are smashed into a coarse paste, then massaged into the cabbage to lend umami and a salty punch. Snap peas and radishes add crunch, but feel free to swap in celery, jicama, fennel or other vegetables. This is a decidedly savory slaw; if you want some sweetness, add honey to the dressing, to taste. The slaw can sit out — poolside, deskside, at a picnic — for up to 3 hours, and it keeps for 3 days in the fridge.”

Note my changes in bold below.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest plus 5 tablespoons lemon juice (from 2 to 3 lemons)
  • 6 scallions, thinly sliced (Note: used 1/4 cup of diced red onion.)
  • 1 medium Savoy or other green cabbage (1 1/2 to 2 pounds), cored and thinly sliced (Note: I used red cabbage as that is what was in my fridge.)
  • I large carrot grated (Note: My addition.)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • ¼ cup tahini
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, plus more to taste
  • 8 ounces snap peas, thinly sliced lengthwise (Note: I used a cucumber instead.)
  • 3 large or 6 small radishes, cut into matchsticks (Note: I didn’t have any but I did add 1/3 cup unsalted peanuts!)

Preparation

  1. Chop and smash the capers, lemon zest and half the scallions together into a coarse, wet paste. In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt and the scallion-caper mixture. Massage with your hands until the cabbage is slightly wilted.
  2. Prepare the dressing: In a liquid measuring cup, stir together the remaining 1/4 cup lemon juice, the tahini and mustard. Add water until thick but pourable (about 3 tablespoons depending on tahini brand). Season to taste with salt and pepper and another teaspoon of mustard for more kick, if desired.
  3. Add the snap peas, radishes and remaining scallions to the cabbage, then stir in enough dressing to lightly coat. (Leftover dressing will keep for up to a week; thin with water as needed.) Season slaw to taste with salt and pepper.

Based on a recipe from Ali Slagel.

Crispy Bean Cakes With Harissa, Lemon and Herbs

OH MY! I have wanted to make bean cakes for a long time. I finally did a few nights ago. So delicious! I found the recipe on The New York Times Cooking page. A recipe developed by Yewande Komolafe.

Crispy Black-eyed Pea Cake with Yogurt and Pork, Cucumber, Peanut Stir Fry

Quoting The New York Times:

“This recipe embraces any beans you’ve got in your pantry. Canned beans are easiest, but fresh shelled beans can be ready to go with a quick blanching, and dried beans can be used, too, if they’ve been soaked and cooked in advance. Toss the well-drained beans with harissa (or any red chile paste), scallions, herbs, lemon zest, cornstarch and a lightly whipped egg white. (The egg white and cornstarch give these bean cakes their crispness.) Shape them into patties for frying, and slice some lemon wedges for serving. Eat the patties as a vegetarian main dish, a side to roast chicken or fish, or as a snack with a dash of harissa.”

Featured in: Bean Cakes You Can Depend On.

Ingredients

  • 2 (15-ounce) cans beans, such as black-eyed peas, chickpeas, pinto, kidney or black beans, drained (about 3 cups) (Note: There’s only two of us here so I used one can; one can of black-eyed peas.)
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems, chopped, plus more for garnish
  • ¼ cup fresh dill, chopped, plus more for garnish
  • ¼ cup sliced scallions (Note: I didn’t have scallions so I used diced red onion.)
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch (Note: Because I used only on can of beans I added 1 1/2 tablespoons.)
  • 1 tablespoon harissa, plus more for serving
  • ¾ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 lemon, zested and cut into wedges
  • 1 egg white
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
  • Labneh or full-fat Greek yogurt, for serving (optional)

Preparation

  1. Place the drained beans in a large bowl and crush using a fork or your fingers until coarsely mashed. Add the cilantro, dill, scallions, cornstarch, harissa, coriander, cumin, salt and pepper. Add the lemon zest and stir to incorporate. Alternatively, you can incorporate ingredients using a food processor and pulse to combine.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the egg white until foamy and fold it into the bean mixture. Cover the mixture and refrigerate to chill slightly, at least 15 minutes, before shaping and frying.
  3. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a medium (10-inch) nonstick skillet or a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium-high. Working in batches, use a 1/4-cup measure to scoop portions of the bean mixture into the oil. Using the flat surface of the cup, press each scooped portion to tightly pack and shape it into a 1/4-inch-thick patty. Cook until the bottom is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Turn using a wide spatula, and brown the other side, about 2 minutes.
  4. Remove cooked cakes from oil and drain on a plate lined with paper towels or a cooling rack on a baking sheet. Repeat until all the bean mixture is used, adding the remaining oil and removing any loose bits from the skillet as necessary. Return the bowl to the refrigerator in between batches to keep the mixture chilled.
  5. Serve lemon wedges alongside the crispy cakes for squeezing. Garnish with dollops of labneh, if using, additional fresh herbs and harissa for dipping.

I kept the other ingredients pretty much as stated above.

Getting My Garden Ready

Here in Western Massachusetts, we are told by those in the know (How they know, I do not know.) to wait until Memorial Day to plant your garden. I rototilled my garden on Monday, May 17th and planted it on Wednesday, May 19th. I guess I have always been a rule-breaker.

Self-portrait. And below the garden planted.

The garden late last summer:

Crostini

On Friday, I worked all day getting my garden ready for planting. I was tired and sore by the end of the day. Susan suggested we order out for Italian Food. We did. And we saved the bread that came with the dinner. The next day, Saturday, Susan suggested I make Crostini to enjoy as we waited for The Preakness to start. I did. No recipe. I oiled bread and baked in oven to toast. I cut up some garlic, tomatoes, olives, capers. YUM!

Black Pepper Shrimp

A few days ago, Susan found an interesting recipe for Black Pepper Shrimp in The New York Times. She gave it to me and said, “Bruce, I think you should make this.” And, I did. I can’t even begin to describe how delicious it was. I served it with Dirty Rice.

Quoting from The New York Times:

“This dish, adapted from Lucy Carvalho, the cookbook author Nik Sharma’s grandmother, owes its fragrance and fiery bite to a generous amount of crushed black peppercorns in a velvety gravy. Like many other Indian home cooks, Ms. Carvalho, who lived in the coastal city of Mumbai, took the Indo-Chinese dish black pepper chicken and substituted shrimp instead. Some versions of this dish call for curry leaves to be fried with the spices, or they might call for another protein in place of the shrimp, like tilapia, cod or catfish. Here, the peppercorns are infused in hot oil, then left to steep as the dish cooks. Fish sauce bolsters the savoriness, but can be left out. For an even stronger bump of heat, increase the amount of black pepper and toss in a sliced serrano. Serve it all over rice for a fast, satisfying dinner.”

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely ground black peppercorns
  • 1 small white onion, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 6 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and grated
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks (Susan doesn’t like green peppers so I used spicy green olives.)
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 pound peeled, deveined raw medium shrimp (fresh or frozen) (I used cocktail shrimp which I added to wok during the final few minutes.)
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • Cooked white rice, for serving (I served with Dirty Rice.)

Preparation

  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high. Add the black peppercorns and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the onion and half the scallions, and sauté, scraping the bottom of the pot as necessary, until the onions turn translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  2. Add the green and red bell peppers and sauté until they begin to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the shrimp and sauté for 1 minute, then stir in 2 cups water, the soy sauce and fish sauce (if using). Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook the shrimp just until they turn pink, about 2 minutes. (Keep an eye on them: The shrimp can turn rubbery quickly.) (See my note above in Ingredients.)
  3. Working quickly as the liquid cooks, mix the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl to form a slurry. Add this mixture to the saucepan as soon as the shrimp turns pink, and cook over medium heat until the sauce thickens, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and add more soy sauce, to taste, if desired. Garnish with the cilantro and remaining scallions. Serve hot or warm with rice.

Italian Wedding Soup

With a twist. The sausage meatballs!

I read about it on the editor of Bon Appetit’s Instagram page.

It is uncomplicated and oh so delicious. Better the next day, too!

Quoting Bon Appetit:

“This recipe takes all the right shortcuts and none of the wrong ones. We doctor up sweet Italian sausage for the meatballs, opt for adding canned beans instead of boiling pasta in a separate pot, and still manage to make an uber-flavorful soup without having to call for boxed chicken stock. It’s one-pot, one-bowl magic.”

Ingredients

1lb. sweet Italian sausage

¾cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), divided

6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided

8 garlic cloves, dividedKosher salt

1 medium head of fennel with fronds

2 medium onions

½tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

½ cup dry white wine

14-oz. piece Parmesan with rind

1 15-oz. can cannellini (white kidney) beans

1 small head of escarole

Directions

  1. Cut shallow slits in each sausage link, then remove sausage from casings; transfer sausage to a medium bowl. Add ½ cup panko, 2 Tbsp. oil, and 2 Tbsp. water. Peel and finely grate 1 garlic clove on a microplane into bowl. Season lightly with salt and mix with your hands until breadcrumbs are evenly distributed.

2. Portion meat into small meatballs about 1″ in diameter (oil your hands to help with rolling if mixture gets sticky) and transfer to a plate. (Note: I made marble-sized meatballs.)

3. Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a Dutch oven over medium. Add meatballs, spacing evenly apart, and cook undisturbed until first side is dark brown, about 5 minutes. Using tongs, turn meatballs and cook until other side is also well browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer back to plate and set aside.

4. Remove pot from heat and prep the rest of the soup ingredients: First, remove fennel fronds from 1 head of fennel and save for garnishing the soup. Cut fennel head in half lengthwise. Cut a V-shaped notch in each half to remove the core. Place halves cut side down, then thinly slice crosswise.

5. Peel and trim 2 onions. Cut in half lengthwise and coarsely chop.

6. Smash 6 garlic cloves (keep remaining clove for the end) and peel.

7. Place Dutch oven back over medium heat and add fennel, onion, and smashed garlic; season with salt and ½ tsp. red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are golden brown and softened, 6–8 minutes.

8. Stir in ½ cup wine and scrape bottom to dissolve any remaining stuck-on browned bits.

9. Add 8 cups water (Note: I used homemade chicken stock.) ; season generously with salt. Slice down along Parmesan rind to remove and add to soup; set cheese aside.

10 .Bring to a simmer, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook uncovered until broth is golden and flavorful, 25–30 minutes. Season with more salt if needed.

11. Open 15-oz. can beans and pour into a strainer or small colander. Rinse beans and shake to remove excess water, then transfer to pot along with meatballs. Bring back to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until broth is slightly thickened from beans and meatballs are cooked and have released some of their flavor into the broth, 10–15 minutes.

12. While soup is simmering, separate leaves from 1 head of escarole and rinse to remove any dirt. Tear into small pieces, then stir into soup in batches to wilt. Remove soup from heat.

13. Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in a small saucepan over medium. Finely grate remaining 1 garlic clove into skillet. Add remaining ¼ cup panko. Season with salt and cook, stirring often, until panko is golden, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

14. Prepare your other garnishes: Finely grate about ½ cup cheese from reserved hunk of Parmesan (you might not need it all). Finely chop fennel fronds.

15. Taste soup and season with salt if needed. Ladle soup into bowls and top with chopped fronds, grated cheese, and toasted panko.

Here I am about to add the escarole.

The Past Few Days In Photos

Click on photos to enlarge.

May 4–May 10, 2021. Click on photos to enlarge.