Thursday, August 6, 2009

Green Beans and August in Oaxaca, Mexico

I’m sure that bringing yourself to tropical food is not more environmentally friendly than bringing it to you, but I do have a few other reasons to be in Mexico for the month of August! And before I launch into the pleasures of fresh avocados, mangos, and papaya, I did discover one great and simple creation on my last night in Boston. I’d been slowly emptying the fridge, and was down to green beans and cold rice, plus freezer fare. I’d had in the back of my head “dry cooking” green beans, and this seemed a pretty good time to try it. It turns out, I think any time is a good time for it.

Green Bean and Shrimp Stir Fry

Serves 4

1 lb green beans, trimmed but not cut

1 T oil

1 lb shrimp, deveined (pre-cooked is fastest, frozen is fine)

½ cup packed fresh basil leaves

1 tsp. coarse sea salt

In a large wok, heat the oil and then toss in the green beans and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently until they start to get a little black. Removed the beans from the wok and set aside. Toss in the shrimp and cook, stirring frequently. If they were raw, they’ll be done when they are pinkish-white, 5-10 minutes. If they were cooked, you just need to warm them through, 3-5 minutes. When the shrimp are ready, add the green beans back in along with the salt and basil and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes. Serve immediately with rice.

Fresh cooked rice is great with this, but so is refried rice. To refry rice, heat 1-2 T vegetable oil until very hot. Add 3-4 cups cooked rice, then season with about 1 tsp. fine salt, 1.2 tsp. ground pepper, and ½ tsp. garlic powder. Stir constantly until heated through, 5-10 minutes.

We’re staying in Oaxaca, the home as far as I’m concerned of all of the best in Mexican food: mole, tamales, and Mexican chocolate all originate here. The state of Oaxaca has some of the most vibrant indigenous communities in Mexico, with seventeen official languages and as many accompanying cuisines. There are more fruits and herbs in the market that I don’t know than ones that I do! So many women walk the streets and sit on corners with steaming pots of delicacies that it seems silly to cook, but it is nice to eat at home occasionally. All we have here is a stove top, one pan and one pot. But that’s all we need. Blanca took over last night and made one of her simple staples: carne molida. Peppers and tomatoes are in full season here, any by the end of the month they will be in Boston too.

Carne molida (ground meat)

Serves 4

1 lb ground beef

½ green pepper

½ onion

1 jalapeño pepper

2 small or one large tomato

2-3 T soy sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Dice the onion, pepper, and tomato. Cut open the jalapeño and take out the seeds. Then chop it finely. In a heavy pan, brown the meat, then add the other ingredients. Cook, stirring regularly, until the onion and peppers are softened but not mushy (10-15 minutes). Serve with rice and tortillas.

Freezing Fruits and Pesky Pesticides

I've been so wrapped up in freezing the loads of blueberries and peaches we have from the farmers' market and farm share and even the grocery stores, that I need to remember to eat some fresh!

Freezing fruits preserves much of their nutritional value. When freezing berries or cherries (remove pits first), wash them first, and air-dry them. Spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze them thoroughly, usually 4 to 6 hours. Put them in a freezer-quality ziploc bag or tupperware. Freezing them individually prior to bagging them up will eliminate the problem of having a solid mass of berries which must be thawed to use. The berries will stay loose and you can take out what you need. This way, you can freeze whatever will fit into your container and not be too concerned about specific amounts. Sliced rhubarb can be frozen with this method, as well.

For peaches, I don't usually freeze slices individually, so I measure the amount I'll need for a pie and write that amount on the container. If you do freeze slices first, which allows you to take out what you need and not concern yourself with measuring pre-freezing, spread them on a cookie sheet like the berry method, above. Two or three hours in the freezer should be enough to harden them. My husband's aunt told me that she freezes whole peaches on a cookie sheet, then puts them in ziploc bags and returns them to the freezer, and when she wants one, microwaves it for 30 seconds or so. She swears that they are almost like fresh. I don't have a microwave, so haven't tried this, but Jan is an honest person and a good cook, so I trust this works.

If you have too many bananas to eat before they go bad, throw them into the freezer (no need to wrap) and pull them out when you want to make banana bread. They thaw quickly.

Fruits and vegetables to get low or no spray

Any food pyramid or doctor will tell you to eat lots of fruits and vegetables and farmers' markets will drive the point home by displaying gorgeous rainbows of produce. A lot of stands at farmers' markets in Somerville and Cambridge advertise low-spray, or even no-spray items. But what if they aren't "low or no"? Should you avoid them altogether? Is fresh and sprayed better than nothing at all? Is peeling enough? These and other questions are answered by the Environmental Working Group ( Check out their website for a list of fruits and vegetables with the worst pesticide sprays.