2014 0926 Corn and black bean saladAmerica’s Test Kitchen would be proud. I’ve been tinkering and puttering around with this idea for months, evaluating ingredients and proportions, adjusting ingredients and sequence. And scaling it up. I made a mini version for two as a trial as soon as corn was in season, re-proportioned it to 6-8 for the immediate family, then to 20 for a larger family gathering over 4th of July weekend, and finally to 75-100 for a big picnic in August. As summer is winding down, I’ll make it a few more times before fresh corn is back next year.  

What I like about this recipe is that it can – and should – be made a day or so ahead. I figured this out because the leftovers from my first batch were better the next day after lime infused the salad. This is basically the same dressing as the lemon-paprika dressing that I use for lentil salad, though there I mince the peel instead of grating it. When you scale up the recipe, you probably don’t need to double or triple the dressing, especially not the lime zest.

With the addition of lime and use of fresh-cooked ingredients, this salad is so much better than the ubiquitous corn and black bean salsa that you see everywhere. It’s familiar though, and that’s important for a big picnic.

Corn and Black Bean Salad with Lime Dressing

Main ingredients

2½ c cooked black beans (from ½ lb dried black beans or 2 15-oz cans, drained and rinsed)

3 ears corn (yielding about 2½ c kernels)

1/3 c red pepper, cut into ¼-inch dice

1/3 c orange pepper, cut into ¼-inch dice

2 scallions, thinly sliced or minced

Salt to taste


1 tsp lime zest (grated lime peel)

1/3 c lime juice (from 2 limes)

2 tbsp olive oil

½ tsp paprika

Pinch cayenne

Pinch salt


Cilantro leaves

If you are using dried beans, soak them in water to cover by a few inches for a few hours, add abundant salt and cook them at a slow simmer until crisp-tender. This could take 45-90 minutes depending on the age of the beans.

Meanwhile, make the dressing by combining the lime zest, lime juice, olive oil, paprika, cayenne and a large pinch of salt.

When the beans are tender, drain them (reserving the liquid for another use, like soup or rice cooking liquid). Add some of the dressing to the warm beans and let them cool.

If you are using canned beans, drain and rinse them and coat with a little dressing. They won’t have the opportunity to absorb as much of the dressing but they’ll still be good. Diminish the salt if using canned beans since they’re typically pretty salty.

Cut the kernels from the corn. (The easiest way to do this is to stand the cob, stem end down, on a small upturned bowl or cup in the middle of a large bowl and slice the kernels off the cob with a knife from top to bottom. The kernels will fall into the large bowl and not spatter all over your kitchen. Be careful not to bang the knife blade on the supporting cup or bowl since you might dull it.)

In a large wide sauté pan, bring about 3 tbsp – ¼ cup of water to a boil and add the corn kernels. Cook for 1-2 minutes, drain and cool.

When ready to assemble, combine the dressed beans, corn, diced peppers and scallions in a large bowl and coat with the remaining dressing. Chill for a few hours or overnight before serving. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste and garnish with chopped cilantro.

Serves 6-8 as a side dish.

2014 0918 Sanditas pickledSanditas (“little watermelons” in Spanish) are also called Sandia de Ratón (“mouse melon”) or the unglamorous and misleading ”Mexican Sour Gherkin.” Not a cucumber much less a gherkin, these miniatures of the genus Melothria Scabra are lovely raw and pickled. I came across them last year in our organic produce market and decided to grow them.

2014 0918 Sanditas washed in a sieveThey are delightful plants, with thin wire-like climbing vines, tiny yellow flowers that attract tiny black bees, and threads that dangle speckled green one-inch ovoid fruit like so many Christmas ornaments. They’re crunchy like cucumbers when green and I combine them with similarly sized cherry tomatoes in salad. They become sour when ripe, at which point they detach from their vines and drop to the ground. Or maybe that was caused by the wind and rainstorm that came through yesterday.

2014 0918 Sanditas on the vineLast year, I pickled them as if making cucumber dill pickles: pricked them with a trussing needle, packed them in a clean jar with a head of dill flowers, and poured over hot liquid composed of 2/3 cider vinegar, 1/3 water and salt. 

This year, to make up with a failed experiment to grow those tiny cucumbers used for cornichons, I decided to pickle the sanditas cornichon-style, with tarragon, a few spices and honey. The combination of flavorings came from Linda Ziedrich’s blog. She’s the go-to person for all things pickled, so I was happy for the advice. They cure for a few days before being ready to eat and can be stored on the counter or in the refrigerator, where they’ll keep for quite a long time.

Pickled Sanditas a la Cornichon, adapted from Linda Ziedrich

Enough Mexican Sour Gherkins or Sanditas to fill a pint jar

A few small sprigs tarragon, rinsed and dried

2 allspice berries

4 black peppercorns

10 whole coriander seeds

2/3 c white wine vinegar

1/3 c water

3/4 tsp pickling salt or Kosher salt

4 tsp honey or sugar

Wash a pint jar well in soap and very hot water, Rinse and air-dry it.

Rinse the sanditas, remove and black bits clinging to the blossom end and prick a couple of times with a trussing needle. Drop the sanditas into the jar, adding the tarragon as you go.

Meanwhile, lightly crush the allspice, pepper and coriander and add to a small saucepan with the vinegar, water, salt and honey. Bring to a boil, stirring, and set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

Pour the hot liquid over the sanditas, filling the jar completely. Add more vinegar to top it off if necessary. Cap the jar. I used a plastic Ball lid, but if you use a metal lid, place a piece of plastic wrap between the liquid and the metal.

Let the sanditas sit at room temperature to pickle for at least three days. Store in the refrigerator for long-term storage or eat within about a week.

2014 0914 Peach Citrus Marmalade in JarsMy love affair with rose-scented geraniums started a few years ago. A friend offered trimmings from her herb garden while I was in the midst of canning peaches, resulting in a peach jam perfumed with a lovely aroma reminiscent of roses. Since then, I’ve been growing several varieties of pelargonium, as they’re properly called. My favorites are “Old Fashioned Rose” and “Lady Grey Plymouth.” They make wonderful potpourris to scent your linens (and probably drive away moths) but I also like them crushed in sugar, added to ice tea, and lightly flavoring jelly and jam.

2014 0913 Rose Geranium and Peach Citrus PureeThis jam is an adaptation of  “Fanny’s Peach Jam” from Catherine Plagemann’s Fine Preserving, a small volume on pickling and jam amusingly annotated by M.F.K Fischer. I’ve made this jam – featuring peaches, oranges and a lemon all ground up together – a couple of times, gradually improving it from the initial try. I thought it was a little flat so I added a pinch of salt and a whole lemon instead of a half at the beginning and a squeeze of lemon just before jarring it. I also diminished the sugar and, in this case, added a nectarine for its rosy color. Remembering the “Peach Marmalade,” also from Plagemann, that started me using rose geranium, I added a few leaves to the cooking jam and a small leaf to each jar.

Peach and Citrus “Marmalade” with Rose Geranium, adapted from Catherine Plagemann’s “Fanny’s Peach Jam” in Fine Preserving

6 yellow peaches, peeled, halved and pitted

Optional: 1 nectarine, halved and pitted

2 navel oranges, quartered, seeded but not peeled

1 lemon, quartered, seeded, but not peeled


Pinch of salt

12 small leaves of rose-scented geranium, rinsed

1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Coarsely chop the orange and lemon in a food processor and add the peaches and optional nectarine, cutting the entire mixture into a medium grind. Measure the fruit and add a pinch of salt and sugar equal to 50-75% of the volume of fruit (e.g., for 6 cups of fruit, add 3-4 cups of sugar). Stir well, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Prepare kettle, jars and lids for water bath canning. Place a saucer in the freezer (to use for testing the gel).

In a large wide saucepan, bring the fruit mixture and 6 of the rose geranium leaves to a boil, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it sets a gel tested on a saucer placed in the freezer, about 12 minutes. Remove the geranium leaves and discard. Dunk the remaining leaves in hot water,

Ladle into prepared jars, inserting a small leaf in each jar, and stirring to release any air bubbles. Cap the jars with two-piece lids and process for 10 minutes after the water comes to a boil. Turn off the heat, remove the lid and let sit for 5 minutes before moving the jars to the counter to sit undisturbed until cool.

Makes approximately 6 eight-ounce jars.

2014 0905 Peach Jam with Lemon BasilI always think that peaches – like strawberries – need companions in their jam. I like to create a counterpoint to the cloying sweetness by adding other ingredients such as compatible fruit, herbs or spices. Fanny’s Peach Jam from Catherine Plagemann uses oranges to add texture and taste – a composite of marmalade and jam. Another season’s Peach Saffron Jam inspired by Paul Virant was savory, earthy, even musky. And Blackberry Peach Jam used peaches as a sparky addition to the deep rich flavor of the berries.

2014 0905 Peaches macerating with lemon basil

Trimming my herb garden before it becomes sere and seedy in the dry fall weather, I clipped bunches of basil, including a particularly fine lemon basil plant. Lemon basil became a great complement to the ample lemon juice I added to keep the peaches from browning. I left the basil in the macerating fruit to infuse its grassy taste but removed it before cooking the jam. The lemon basil was subtle in the jam but noticeable.

Peach Jam with Lemon Basil

5 large or 8 small peaches (2½ lb measured after pitting, 6 c cubed)

Juice of 1 lemon, peel and seeds reserved

1½ c granulated sugar

Big pinch of salt

4-5 large sprigs of lemon basil, rinsed

Peel the peaches by plunging them first into boiling water for a few seconds and then into ice water. The skins will slip off easily. Chop the peaches, dropping them into a large bowl in which you’ve placed the lemon juice. Add the sugar and salt and stir to combine, being careful not to bruise the fruit. Place the lemon seeds and a portion of the peel in a small muslin bag and immerse it in the fruit. Add the lemon basil, bruising the leaves somewhat to release their oil. Cover with crumpled parchment paper and macerate in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

(Alternatively, if your peaches are not juicy, you can cook the peaches, sugar and salt for about 10 minutes over low heat until they render their juice, cool them and immerse the bag of lemon seeds and peel and the lemon basil before setting aside overnight.)

Prepare the kettle, jars and lids for water bath canning. Place a small saucer in the freezer.

Bring the peach mixture to a boil, reduce the heat until medium, and cook until thick and gelled, under 10 minutes. (Test for gel by placing a drop of jam on the frozen saucer. If it wrinkles to the touch, the gel is good.) Spoon the jam into the prepared jars.

Process the jars for 10 minutes after the water returns to a boil. Turn off the heat, remove the lid and let sit for 5 minutes before moving the jars to a counter to sit undisturbed until cool.

Makes approximately 5 four-ounce jars.

Nectarine Vanilla Jam

 Nectarine Vanilla JamJam made with nectarines is a favorite around here. It’s summer in a jar just as is, although the addition of vanilla, pepper or herbs gives it a little oomph. There’s something wonderfully clear about the taste and texture, so it doesn’t need to be fussed up.

Someone wrote to me the other day about the effect of excess liquid after macerating the fruit with sugar for a fairly long time. This resulted in her cooking the jam for a much longer time than she might have otherwise done. When that’s happened to me, as in the way I used to make strawberry jam, the fruit becomes overcooked and loses some of its fresh flavor. I suppose that accounts for my poor attitude toward strawberry jam, even though I have since fixed the problem by macerating the fruit before jamming it.

 Nectarines macerating with sugar and vanillaMacerating is basically a method of breaking down the fibers and drawing liquid from a fruit or vegetable. For jam, maceration is usually done by adding sugar and letting the fruit sit for a few hours or overnight, stirring a few times to dissolve the sugar. The fruit produces liquid, the sugar bonds with the fruit’s exuded water molecules to become syrupy, and the natural pectin – the stuff that makes jam gel – is developed. That’s my “school of experience” kitchen science and probably not chemically correct, but it works. The other trick to getting a natural gel without using added pectin is to add lemon juice to the fruit and the lemon seeds and a little peel tied in a small muslin sack to the macerating fruit. 

I usually start my jam with slightly under-ripe fruit and therefore I suspect that my reader used very ripe fruit. Using my recipe, her jam took over an hour to cook. My original one took 25 minutes to gel. This one took less than 15 minutes. Once you’ve macerated the fruit, you have two choices: cook the whole thing – fruit and liquid together – to the gel point, or separate the liquid and fruit and cook the liquid to a near gel point, add the fruit and cook again to gel. The latter solves the problem of excess liquid. My 25-minute version cooked the fruit and liquid together. My 15-minute version separated them. While this seems like a lot of steps, the truth is that it breaks down the task of jam-making into small steps that can be done leisurely over a day or so.

Nectarine Vanilla Jam

2-2½ lb nectarines, washed, pitted and cut into ½-inch dice (about 6 c)

2 c sugar

Juice of 1 lemon, peels and seeds reserved

1 vanilla bean

Combine the nectarines, lemon juice and sugar in a large deep bowl, stirring lightly to dissolve the sugar without bruising the fruit. (If your fruit tends to brown when cut, place the lemon juice in the bowl first and cut the fruit into it). Tie the lemon seeds and a little of peel (about ¼ of the lemon) in a muslin sack and submerge in the fruit. Crumble a piece of parchment paper on top of the fruit and set aside to macerate for about 6 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

Prepare jars for water bath canning. Place a saucer in the freezer (to test the gel).

If the fruit has exuded a significant amount of liquid (at least a cup), drain the liquid into a large broad-bottomed pot and reserve the fruit. Bring the liquid to a boil and cook until large bubbles form (stone fruit will foam) and the liquid starts to gel, under 5 minutes depending on the volume of liquid. You know when it starts to gel when a small drop placed on the frozen saucer wrinkles to the touch.

Add the reserve fruit and being to a boil, cooking it until it reaches the gel point again, less than 10 minutes. Mash the fruit slightly to the desired consistency.

Ladle into prepared jams, clean the rims and top with two-piece lids.   Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes after the water comes to a boil. Turn off heat, remove the canner lid and let sit for 5 minutes before removing to a counter to sit, undisturbed, until cool.

Makes 6-7 four-ounce jars.

2014 0814 Blueberry and raspberry tartFresh fruit from the farmers’ market or field is irresistible. I keep bringing home quantities that normally transform into jam, only to be slammed with a new deadline at work. The fruit sits, patiently ripening on the table. My pantry will suffer down the road but the excess fruit has allowed quite a few experiments with roasted fruit condiments and rustic fruit desserts, not to mention the melons and peaches and plums and berries and figs introduced to our salads of greens and herbs. It’s been a good summer after all.

Last weekend I picked the last blueberries and the first raspberries. (Since raspberries are a two-season crop, I picked the last raspberries and first blueberries earlier in the summer.) What I had on hand was perfect for a tart, cooked in a 4 x 10 inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, a spur-of-the-moment splurge that I now find incredibly useful. 

My favorite way to make blueberry filling for a tart is to boil a few berries with sugar, water and thickener to make a jam, cool it and fold in fresh berries. The cooked fruit is a binder for the raw. Tinged with lemon and topped with raspberries, the blueberries are refreshing.

Blueberry and Raspberry Tart

2 c blueberries, divided ½ c and 1½ c

1/3 c sugar

1/3 c water

1 tbsp cornstarch

1 tbsp water

Juice of ½ lemon

1 pre-baked tart shell (8-9 inches diameter or 4 x 10 inches rectangular)

1 quarter-pint red raspberries

Optional: powdered sugar

Place ½ c berries, sugar and 1/3 cup water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. In a small covered jar, shake the cornstarch and1 tbsp water to combine into a slurry (or stir together thoroughly in a small bowl). Add slowly to the berry mixture, stirring to avoid lumps and cooking for a few minutes until the berries pop and the mixture becomes thick. Set aside to cool. Add the lemon juice and the balance of the berries and spoon into a pre-baked (and cooled) tart shell. Arrange the raspberries on top. Serve as is or sprinkle with sifted confectioners sugar just before serving.

Pre-baked tart shells (makes two 8-inch or 4×10-inch shells)

2 c flour

½ tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

10 tbsp (1¼ sticks) very cold butter, cut into ½ inch cubes

1/3 c plus a couple tbsp ice cold water

Place the flour, salt, sugar and butter in a food processor and pulse a couple of times until the mixture is crumbly. With the motor running, quickly add 1/3 c of ice water and turn off motor immediately. Pour the mixture into a shallow bowl and add additional ice water, a few sprinkles at a time, until the dough holds together. Do not over mix. Divide the dough in half and place each half in plastic wrap in the refrigerator (which will relax the gluten) for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the dough on a floured board (also flouring the rolling pin) and place it into a fluted tart pan. Run the rolling pin across the top of the pan to level the edges. Prick the bottom of the shell with a fork, line it with foil and add dried beans (I’ve used the same ones over and over for years) or pie weights. Bake the tart shell for 10 minutes, remove the foil and beans and bake for about another 10 minutes until just browned. Remove to cool before adding the cooked and cooled filling.

2014 0803 Cucumber saladBe adventurous if you have the luxury of a garden, even one in a pot. That’s why I’m growing dragon’s eggs. Within 20 minutes, I have the prospect of four farmers’ markets, our CSA, working farms that sell what they grow, an organic indoor vegetable market that sources widely, and then some. Yet the variety of produce is pretty narrow in range. Take cucumbers for example. We see the ubiquitous cuke called Marketmore (that name’s no surprise) and seasonal Kirbys for pickling. Grocery chains sell English and Persian versions wrapped in plastic, clearly not local and probably not that fresh.

2014 0803 Dragons egg cucumber

Once in a while, sourced from local farms, we’ll see the golden spheres of Lemon Cucumbers, which I’ve grown myself, or super long Armenian cucumbers, which are actually melons. Or, for a fleeting moment last fall, Mexican sour gherkins, which I wouldn’t have known about but am growing now. Also technically not a cucumber, these inch-long, oblong fruits resemble miniature watermelons and are crisp little bites. The Chinese farmer who attends our local Saturday market usually has the best options for out-of-the-ordinary cucumbers and melons.

2014 0808 Dragon's Egg cucumber on the vineThis year, I’ve discovered two cucumbers that I highly recommend. One, Suyo Long, needs a giant trellis to grow, I’m sure, since the ones I’ve snagged at the farmers market are about 18 inches long. Crisp and flavorful when the skin is left on, they out-rival the English cucumber although they do have seeds. The other, my new hero, is the Dragon’s Egg. It’s about the size of a large duck egg and fits nicely in the palm of your hand, a beautiful object. Creamy white and melon-like in flavor, they’re relatively thin-skinned so you can eat the whole thing. The vines are mad scramblers and the plants, covered with bright yellow flowers favored by bees, are very prolific. As an heirloom, they’re susceptible to cucumber wilt but if you’re as lucky as I, you’ll get a healthy size crop before then. I grow them tightly spaced for shade along a 4-foot high “fence,” which I’d prefer to be 5-6 feet high. You could grow them in a pot topped with a tomato cage. They need a good amount of water, from the base, and in the heat of summer, it helps if they get some shade during part of the day.

2014 0808 Dragon's Egg flowerHere, I paired Suyo Long and Dragon’s Egg in a simple salad. After slicing cucumbers, I lightly salt them, park a few ice cubes on top, and let them sit on the counter for about 10 minutes. This draws out a little liquid but lightly flavors and crisps them. Sprinkled with a little white wine vinegar and seasoned with tarragon or dill, and you’re good to go. I topped mine with Greek yogurt flavored with finely minced scallions, dill and parsley.

Cucumbers are highly nutritious, full of Potassium and Vitamins C and K and other antioxidants, and more versatile in the kitchen than most people realize. I had a delicious cucumber curry in Sri Lanka a couple of months ago. Now, with the success of the Dragon’s Eggs, I’m preparing for next year’s Poona Kheeras!


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