|Stir fry of Freshly Harvested Vegetables at La Cocina Que Canta Title?
"Here, taste this," urges Salvador Tinajero, the head gardener at Rancho Tres Estrellas. "You're a chef, you should know." And so the pressure is on for me to identify yet another mysterious herb or leafy green. But I don't mind. This is one guessing game I've come to love.
Tinajero, a man of seemingly infinite energy, is in charge of the six acre organic farm that supplies much of the food consumed in the dining room at Rancho La Puerta, the time honored and much revered spa and resort, and at La Cocina Que Canta—the kitchen that sings—their recently launched and wildly popular culinary center.
When I first arrive for my regular teaching gig at La Cocina Que Canta, just over the border from San Diego in Baja California, Tinajero is always among the first to greet me. His enthusiasm for the picturesque garden is contagious. As we walk the perfectly manicured rows of vibrant green plants it's difficult to keep up with his rapid fire commentary, not to mention the continuous quiz he subjects me to. But, I'm having fun because when I'm with Tinajero, I am the student and he is the teacher.
Although the menus for the cooking classes are planned weeks in advance with Salvador's assistance I add a "mystery" recipe to each class. As Salvador shows off his harvest of the day I begin to consider the culinary possibilities.
Today there is an eclectic harvest that I know the students will love. Tucked into the basket on my arm are the smallest kohlrabi I've ever seen. These extra-terrestrial looking orbs—about the size of a hard ball— are in the same family as cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. They are firm and crisp with a flavor and texture reminiscent of tender broccoli stems. Also in the basket is young garlic, sweet and pungent and as yet too immature to have developed paper covered separate lobes, and small pure white equally immature onions. On top of this bounty are a half dozen or so picture perfect Savoy cabbages. Except these are small—not much bigger than the kohlrabi—and have tender, crinkly and loosely packed leaves.
The garden is just a few hundred feet from the kitchen, but by the time I walk through the doors with my bounty I've got a "mystery" recipe percolating in my head.
Today's recipe will be a stir-fry seasoned with minced fresh ginger, a couple of dried red peppers, tamari and sesame oil. As the students bustle to prepare the days menu, I team up with a couple who finished their recipe early. I explain what I need and they follow along excited about learning a new recipe and eating these vegetables for the first time.
About one third of the way into the recipe we discover diced very young kohlrabi is too dense to benefit from a quick toss in hot oil, so we add a few tablespoons of water and steam it, covered, for a few minutes or until it's crisp tender. Then into the pan go thin wedges of the cabbage and thin slices of onion and garlic. We turn the heat up high and toss everything together just until the vegetables begin to wilt. Then in goes a splash of tamari and a drop or two of roasted sesame oil. We spoon our pretty mystery recipe into a beautifully crafted Mexican pottery bowl, sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds on top and step back to admire our handy work.
I look forward to my next visit to the ranch because I know Salvador will be there to greet me. "Here, taste this," he'll exclaim, and the fun will begin all over again.
Stir fry of Freshly Harvested Vegetables at La Cocina Que Canta
Today's Vegetables: young tender kohlrabi, baby Savoy cabbage, spring onions and young garlic
Makes 4 servings
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon peeled, finely chopped ginger
2-3 small dried chiles, or to taste
6-8 young kohlrabi, trimmed, peeled and diced (1/4 inch)
6-8 baby Savoy cabbages, trimmed, cut into ½ inch wedges
1/4 cup thin sliced Spring onions, plus tender tops
1 tablespoon finely chopped young garlic, plus tender tops
1 tablespoon Tamari or soy sauce (reduced sodium)
1 teaspoon roasted sesame seed oil
1 teaspoon black or brown sesame seeds (optional garnish)
1. Heat the oil in a skillet or wok; add ginger and stir-fry 1 minute. Add chiles and stir-fry 20 seconds.
2. Add kohlrabi and 3 tablespoons of water and stir to coat with seasonings. Cover and braise over medium low heat until the kohlrabi is crisp tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.
3. Uncover, turn the heat to medium high and add the cabbage, spring onions and garlic. Stir-fry just until the cabbage begins to wilt, about 5 minutes. Add the tamari and stir-fry until blended. Remove from the heat. Drizzle with the sesame oil and toss to blend. Spoon into a serving dish and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.