Baja Cooking on the Edge
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BAJA Cooking on the Edge

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Deb's Writings


Be Deborah M. Schneider, CEC
Published September 2001, San Diego Union Tribune

Growing up in the frozen North, I don't recall growing anything more than some scandalously hot radishes and smelly wild leeks. Imagine my shock when I moved to San Diego and discovered actual bananas growing in the back yard of my Point Loma apartment. I wouldn't have been more surprised had a lion been lounging underneath.

Later explorations in my neighbourhood introduced me to pomegranates, wild fennel, passionfruit, loquats, citrus, persimmons, carob, olives and figs, guavas and pommelos, cherimoyas and kiwi - to name only a few. In my work as a professional chef I've had opportunity to experiment with many of these intriguing ingredients.

San Diego's local small farms grow bumper crops of exotic and rare fruits and vegetables, which are shipped all over the world. Our backyard farmers fill our side yards, lanes and alleyways with a virtual catalogue of exotic edible plants from all over the planet. San Diego county is famous for the quality and variety of its agricultural products; chefs in more challenged climates would give their toques for the chance to live here and work with such sensational raw materials.

But with such bounty comes the inevitable FAQ: What on earth do you do with all this stuff? Ah, the problems of Paradise.

Such is the challenge faced by Pacific Beach chiropractor Bruce McKillican. Seduced by the beautiful flowers and lush growth of the passionfruit, he planted the prolific vine on his Mount Soledad home. Now, every year, he finds himself literally hip deep in the hard-shelled, dimpled purple fruit. "What on earth do I do with all this passionfruit?" he asked recently, nervously eyeing several hundred soon-to be ripe passionfruit.( heedless of the fact that commercially produced , seedless passionfruit puree sells for as much as $30.00 a quart to the best restaurants in the world!)

So if your fig tree is bearing down on you, or your zucchini vine is scaring you with way too many blossoms, or that loaded cherimoya reminds you of a bad sci-fi thriller - sharpen your shears and read on. For those without a pomegranate to your name, take heart; most of these items are available seasonally from specialty grocers and local growers.

Sure, you can go to the supermarket and buy (yawn!) apples-pears-bananas-grapes-melons. Ho, hum. Or, maybe there's a culinary adventure right in our very own backyard.


Passion Fruit
The passionfruit (also known as by the name lilikoi or granadilla) flourishes in our climate, producing vast quantities of what can only be described as a truly ugly fruit. The dimpled, hard-shelled fruit must be eaten very ripe, when the soft yellow-orange pulp and crunchy black seeds are almost overpoweringly scented. The potent flavor is a balance of tart and sweet, like a mix of ripe mango, lime, honey and orange. The seeded pulp freezes incredibly well, with no loss of flavor. And about those seeds: Love 'em or sieve 'em. Strain them out if you don't like the crunch.

Passionfruit is a favorite of the world's top pastry chefs, who pay a premium for the puree. It is most often used directly as a sauce or in a frozen dessert as at New York's Daniel Restaurant. There, the pulp, including seeds, is scooped over a perfectly round ball of meringue that has been filled with passionfruit ice.

To enjoy passionfruit at its simplest, merely scoop out the pulp, sweeten with sugar or a sweet liqueur and eat over ice cream or over sliced fruit.

If you have an ice cream maker, passionfruit makes sensational ice cream, like the Creamsicle of the gods. Merely substitute the pulp (strained or not) for about 1/3 of the heavy cream in the recipe and make according to manufacturer's directions. Passionfruit makes an amazingly flavorful sorbet. Again, refer to your manufacturers' recipe guideline.

Combine the strained pulp with white rum and sugar to taste, to make a tropical treat; or use in smoothies.

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Passionfruit Soy Smoothie
High in isoflavones, protein and calcium - and delicious!

Makes 4 Servings
½ to 3/4-cup passionfruit pulp (seeded or not)
1 medium banana
1-cup soy milk
1 tb.. soy or protein powder (optional)
½ cup pineapple juice
8 ounces nonfat yogurt, any flavor
1 tsp vanilla
2 tablespoons honey
6 ice cubes
In a blender whirl everything but the ice cubes. Add them last


Tequila BBQ Shrimp with Passion Fruit Line Vinaigrette
This can all be prepared ahead. Serve with mixed greens or for a more substantial entrée, steamed basmati rice sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and scallions.

For the Shrimp marinade:
16-20 size white shrimp, 6 per person, shelled
12 X 12 square heavy aluminum foil
1 tsp minced basil
1 tb. white wine
slice of butter ¼ inch thick, or substitute
sprinkle kosher salt
slice of lime
½ TB. golden tequila
slice of jalapeno

Passionfruit Vinaigrette
Make this a couple of hours before dinner so the ginger flavor can come out, but leave in the mixing bowl until serving time; it will separate. Reblend just before serving.

2 tb. finely minced ginger
¼ cup passionfruit pulp (with or without seeds)
1 tb. rice vinegar
Juice of one lime(about 1 tablespoon)
½ tsp kosher salt
Ground black pepper
1/3 to ½ cup salad oil or light olive oil
2 tb. minced fresh basil

Grill shrimp packets over medium heat , turning several times to baste. They take about five minutes to cook.. Serve the shrimp in the packets and serve the Passionfruit Vinaigrette on the side. Whole basil springs make a nice garnish.

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This ancient tree , symbol of fertility for our ancestors, has been used for many centuries to add color and zesty flavor to drinks, salads, dressings, entrees and desserts. As any pomegranate lover knows by looking at their fingers, the red skin yields a potent dye .The juice is sometimes concentrated into true grenadine syrup, also called pomegranate molasses, an ingredient used in Middle Eastern cooking. (The bottles of red syrup used by bartenders may be called grenadine, but don't be fooled; it's just red dye and sugar syrup.) The crunchy, individual seeds (called aril) are messy but addictive, and kids love them.Separate the seeds by carefully cracking the pomegranate apart in a bowl of cold water.

The juice makes an exotic substitute for lemon juice in any recipe, and it is especially good in salad dressings. The juice can be difficult to extract with a juicer. Instead, puree the skinned fruit in a food processor and let the pulp drip through a sieve.
The seeds can be scattered over an apple or pear tart or salad for color and a burst of flavor.


Arugula Salad With Pomegranate Seeds And Goat Cheese
With its festive colors, this classically Californian salad would make a wonderful first course for a holiday dinner. Pomegranates are in season through December.
Serves 4

2 cups washed and stemmed arugula
1 1/2 cups limestone or butter lettuce leaves, torn
1 cup radicchio leaves, torn
4 ounces Montrachet or other goat cheese, broken up
Halved cherry tomatoes for garnish

1/3 cup fresh pomegranate juice (or 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses*)
1 tb. balsamic vinaigrette
1 tb. lemon juice
1 tb. red wine vinegar
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tb. whole black peppercorns, crushed or coarsely ground
1/2 to 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or to taste)
Separated pomegranate seeds
*Available from Kabul Market on Convoy Street;I like the Sadaf brand

Blend all the vinaigrette ingredients together and coorect seasoning. Toss the greens with a little of the dressing, mound in the center of chilled plates and garnish with the halved cherry tomatoes and crumbled goat cheese. Drizzle a little more dressing around the plate and sprinkle the pomegranate seeds around and over the salad as garnish. (This salad is great with toasted crusty bread that has been brushed with a little olive oil.)

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Spicy Pomegranate Grilled Chicken
Tart pomegranate and spicy cayenne are a perfect foil for dark meat chicken. The skin helps keeps the meat moist during cooking and crisps up deliciously on the grill.
Serves 4

8 bone in, skin on chicken thighs
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup pomegranate juice (or ¼ cup pomegranate molasses)
2 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 tb. oil

Combine all marinade ingredients in a large ziplock bag. Mix well and add the chicken. Marinate overnight. Start on a hot grill with skin-side down, then turn heat to low and close BBQ (or, finish in a 400 degree oven). Chicken is done when in ternatl temperature reaches 165 degrees, and the skin is crisp and quite dark.

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Is there a garden, anywhere, that has too few zucchini? One way to pare down your crop to a tolerable level is to try dining on the zucchini blossoms, also called machos. I like to pick the female blossoms when they have a tiny squash, only two or three inches long, on the end. These can be sautéed in a little olive oil, lightly seasoned and served crisp-tender, still sporting their yellow bloom. If you're really showing off, make a simple vegetarian risotto to serve with your tiny squah. Or, enjoy the delicate blossoms in this vegetable quesadilla.

Zucchini Blossom Quezadilla

Per serving:
2 corn tortillas (ideally, freshly made)
Oaxacan or asadero cheese (stringy cheese similar to mozarella)
Sauteed zucchini blossoms (see Method), two or three per quesadilla
Pico de Gallo (see method)
Oil or Butter for grilling (two uses)

Soak the zucchini blossoms in a bowl of salted cold water, then clean the blossoms carefully. Remove the green leaves around the flower head. You can remove the pistils and stamen if you like. Shake dry and drain well. Heat a little oil or butter in a saute pan and quickly saute the zucchini blossoms until they just wilt. Chop into large pieces,season with salt and set aside.

Make the pico de gallo with seeded and chopped vine-ripe tomatoes, minced white onion, cilantro, jalapeno or Serrano chiles, and salt. Set aside.

Preheat griddle, comal or other heavy pan over medium heat Build the quesadillas with a thin layer of the cheese and a few zucchini blossoms, topped with a second corn tortilla. Cook the quesadillas with a small amout of butter or oil until golden and the cheese is melted.

Cut into quarters and serve hot with Pico de Gallo.

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The guava is best-know here as a landscape plant, popular as much for its hardy everygreen leaves as its colorful fruit. It's a shame that so few San Diegans actually harvest and eat their landscaping guava ("Mom, Bob's eating the hedge again…,")since guava are hugely popular all over the Caribbean, Mexico and South America, India and Asia.

Far and away the most popular guava are the small, red strawberry guava, which smells floral and fruity when ripe, and the slightly larger lemon guava. (The large "pineapple guava" is actually an unrelated fruiting plant known as the feijoa-also tasty, but no guava.)

Guava is most often used as a juice or soft drink, in jams, preserves, candies and jellies. For a change of pace, this tartly sweet and unusually floral fruit makes a dynamite salsa for any grilled fish.

Swordfish with Guava Salsa
Serves four

Four - 6 ounce swordfish medallions , at least 1" thick
(any firm fish suitable for grilling can be substituted)

1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper or crushed black peppercorns
2 tb. orange juice
1 tb. white wine (or unseasoned rice vinegar)
1 tb. minced fresh basil

Guava Salsa:
1 cup very ripe skinned guava, diced ½ inch*
1 TB. fresh cilantro, washed, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 tb. minced jalapeno or Serrano chile
¼ cup finely diced white onion
2 tb. fresh lime juice
1 tb. unseasoned rice vingar
1 teaspoon white sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
*Mangoes are a successful substitute

For marinade: combine oil, seasonings, juices, wine and herbs together and mix well. Marinate the swordfish steaks for at least two hours but no more than six hours.

Combine salsa ingredients and refrigerate for at least one hour. Drain off excess liquid before serving.
Bake the swordfish steaks, with the marinade poued over, to an internal temperature of 145 degrees for medium. (Can also be grilled - baste with marinade). Do not overcook. Serve immediately with a spoonful of Guava Salsa on top. Pass the remaining salsa separately.

Strawberry Guava Daquiris
Adapted from the Rum Tiki Cookbook, by W. Park Kerr
Makes 2 cocktails

3/4 cup fresh guava pulp
4 large, very ripe strawberries, washed and hulled
2 nice strawberries for garnish
4 ounces white or gold rum
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
6 ice cubes
2 lime wedges

Blend all ingredients, except ice cubes, on high speed . Add the ice cubes and blend until frothy. Popur into tall glasses, garnish with strawberries, squeeze a lime wedge into each and discard. Serve immediately.

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San Diego County is a hotbed of cherimoya cultivation - with almost all of the crop exported to the rest of the planet. Despite the success of cherimoya as a cash crop, it is one of our more misunderstood fruits. Growing up in Pacific Beach, my husband and his boyhood cohorts used them (presumably unripe) as ersatz baseballs in pickup games. He has since learned the error of his ways, but most of us have never tasted a cherimoya; just try buying one at your local superstore. This is strictly a backyard treat.

Eating Cherimoyas
If you are lucky enough to have access to cherimoyas, treat them like avocados. Don't refrigerate them, and don't expect them to get prettier as they ripen. When the stem end yields to gentle pressure, chill and eat with a spoon for an instant dessert. The soft creamy flesh, with a taste reminiscent of pina colada, is a. treat that needs little enhancement Dice into fruit salad, puree as a sauce for pound cake, or freeze the sweetened puree with a drop of vanilla and enjoy a non-fat frozen treat. Or as George Emerich, the Cherimoya King of Emerich Gardens in Fallbrook would say, "Just eat 'em!".

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The fig is the most celebrated and most ancient of fruits, with roots in western Asia and the Mediterrenean that go back 7000 years. Prolific and hardy, the fig is a common San Diego yard fruit.

The most common, the Mission fig, is fast-growing and heavily fruited, with an attractive black skin and melon-pink flesh . Brown Turkey figs are an older variety; sticky-sweet and delicious when ripe. The Blanche, another popular fig, has a pale-colored flesh and a wonderful, sweet flavor.

All figs should be eaten very ripe .Their natural sweetness is a perfect foil for salty or strong-flavored foods ; think Southern France or Italian Riveiera for inspiration.

If you own a dehydrator, Brown Turkey and Blanche figs dry like a dream, and you can enjoy your crop all year long.

If you are in Hillcrest, drop by Bread and Cie for a loaf of their phenomenal dried Fig & Anise Bread.

Salads and Antipastos
Figs balance vinaigrettes: try adding fig wedges as garnish to a green salad with a sweet citrus dressing, thinly sliced fresh fennel and a sprinkle of blue cheese. Dried figs can be diced and added to a salad.

Make your own Fig Vinegar: Simmer a handful of diced dried figs with balsamic vinegar to cover, a couple of black peppercorns and a drop of vanilla extract.

San Diego Antipasto with Figs
Showcase your crop with this simple antipasto, perfect for a warm September night.

On a large antiapsto platter arrange:
Ripe figs, cut into quarters
Thinly sliced prosciutto and dried Italian sausages
a variety of Mediterranean-style cheeses ranging from creamy to ripe and salty;
strong black olives and marinated green olives
roasted peppers
grilled, vinaigrette- marinated zucchini, eggplant and yellow squash.

Figs Broiled With Brown Sugar And Sour Cream

Preheat broiler. Wash ripe figs and cut into halves, or quarter if very large. Set the pieces close together in a shallow baking dish or gratin dish. Sprinkle with brown sugar, and broil about 6 inches from the heat source until the sugar has melted but not burned and the figs are warm.

While the figs are broiling, mix together brown sugar and heavy sour cream (not that 'lite' stuff) to taste with a drop of vanilla or dark rum. Serve the figs warm with a dollop of the sour cream sauce. For an edgy Continental presentation, crush a couple of black peppercorns with a heavy mallet or pan (don't use a grinder) and sprinkle a tiny bit on each serving.

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The essential olive suits our Mediterranean climate perfectly; there are olive trees everywhere in San Diego. The Spanish introduced the lovely tree to Calfornia in the early 18th century, and it remains an important commercial crop. Most olive tree owners grumble about the upkeep, but it is possible to eat your olive crop instead of sweeping it up.

Raw olives contain an alkoloid that renders them bitter and inedible. Some varieties are edible after sun drying but most need to be cured and processed. Olives are picked green from the tree when full sized, with the best varieties for our area being Manzanillo, Mission and Picholine varieties.

Making your own home-pressed olive oil and cured olives is almost as challenging as wine-making . It could, however, be a rewarding project for the truly serious foodie(imagine giving out bottles of your own private label olive oil and soon- to- be- famous olives as gifts !) but these are very time consuming projects and there will certainly be some trial and error involved as you learn. I warned you.

That said, pamphlets on the subject of curing olives and making olive oil are available from University of California at Davis (www.fruits& Pamphlet #2758 covers home curing of olives.

The following recipe is from The Olive Source (, an excellent on-line resource for lovers of the olive. If you want to buy your own olive press, or research varietals, this is the place to start.

"Come Conservare Le Olive Con Sale A Secco"
"How to preserve olives with salt"

1 Kg. of olives
200 g. coarse salt

Put the olives with the coarse salt in a glass jar for 50 days, mixing it up every three days. At the end of this period remove the brine and dry the olives. Then put them in a glass jar covered in oil, with some laurel leaves, garlic and lemon peel.

copyright, The Olive Source 2001

Home Pickling of Olives
This is one of several recipes from U.C. Davis publication 2758

Any variety - Collect olives by hand in a clean plastic bucket to prevent bruising.
Day O: Wash in running water. Add boiling hot water and allow to soak for 24 hours.
Day 1: Pour off cold water add more boiling water
Day 2: Pour off cold water add more boiling water
Day 3: Pour off cold water. Place the olives into clean jars. Add a mixture of brine and white (or any other type) vinegar in the proportions of 3 to 1 by volume

Brine = 10%w/v salt in water (that is 100grams/litre of final solution)

Fill jars well and add a layer of olive oil.

"We eat the olives after one week. When the olives are at their tastiest they have all gone!"

-Prof Stan Kailis, University of Western Australia, Perth WA

Herbed Black Olives With Lemon - Using All That Citrus!

George Emerich is sometimes introduced as "The Cherimoya King". As past president of the California Rare Fruit Growers, the Fallbrook resident has a refreshingly straightforward approach to consuming your crops: "Stop looking for recipes," he asserts. "Just eat the fruit!"

Essential equipment
The juicer, food mill, food processor or blender, dehydrator and freezer are your friends when you have a gigantic crop to deal with. Extracted juices and purees of exotic fruits make fantastic bases for drinks, frozen treats, sauces and marinades. Purees: The world's easiest dessert is a simple mousse: One part sweetened puree of any fruit: ( for example : loquat, fig, very ripe persimmon, passionfruit, banana -perhaps lightly touched with an approproate liqueur for the adults), and one part lightly sweetened, freshly whipped cream None of that canned stuff please - though in a pinch you can substitute frozen dessert topping. Fold together or layer into a champagne flute or other tall, slim, elegant glass. Serve with a crisp cookie, look like a genius.

Drinks and other delights
Use your harvest for smoothies, fruit punches for parties (with and without alcohol) or bases for other drinks. Mix your juice with other juices, such as orange, for a tropical treat. The passionfruit Gold margarita, made with passionfruit puree, Grand Marnier and gold tequila, is a sweet-tart delight.When friends visit from back East, whip up some strawberry guava frozen daquiris using guava and limes from your own yard.What's the point in living here if you can't rub it in?

Frozen treats:
Sweeten and freeze any juice or puree on sticks in Popsicle molds. Another favorite appliance of mine, the Krups ice cream/sorbet maker, will churn out sensational ice creams, gelatos and sorbets with simple modifications of existing recipes. Or, simply freeze unsweetened purees in plastic tubs (leaving room for expansion), label and give as gifts with a recipe idea or two.

A great place to learn more about exotic fruits and vegetables is at, the website of the California Rare Fruit Growers. Or, contact the organization at the Fullerton Arboretum, PO Box 6850, Fullerton CA 92834-6850.

Other Webistes:

The definitive book for using exotic fruits and vegetables is Elizabeth Schneider's Unusual Fruits and Vegetables (Morrow Books).

Schneider, the produce expert for Food Arts Magazine, has written the definitive book on using all kinds of interesting and unusual foods. There are thorough descriptions for preparation and useage, and recipes.


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