That is a selection of the food I bought Saturday morning at the Cary Downtown Farmers Market (CDFM) for our Fourth of July holiday weekend meals. Doesn’t it all look enticing? We are getting into the season of plenty at our local Farmers Markets, so you should check it out.
Towards the end of last week, I was looking for inspiration for our July 4th foods. I asked my son and husband if they had any preferences or requests, but they didn’t. My husband said something along the lines of “American food is boring.” I knew what he meant––we just had hamburgers and potato salad for Memorial Day, and we’re not a big burger or hot dog family. But there is SO MUCH different “American” food, I would never call it boring. In fact, as I thought about it, we now have immigrants from so many different parts of the world, each group bringing their own food traditions, spices, and recipes, really just about any food is “American” food in some community in the US. So I thought that maybe instead of traditional “American” food, we could celebrate the holiday with immigrant-inspired New American dishes.
But which immigrants should it be? Thinking it over, one of the things I regret about 2021 so far is the rise in Asian hate crimes, presumably because the coronavirus originated in China. Why people would take that out on Asian-American citizens living here, I don’t understand. But I thought that basing my Fourth of July on Asian cuisine might send out some pro-Asian energy to combat those who have been expressing anti-Asian sentiments. So an Asian meal it would be, I decided.
However, I also wanted to get as many of the ingredients at our Cary Farmers Market, which doesn’t necessarily focus on Asian produce. So my menu would be Asian fusion; dishes inspired by Asian culture, but adapted to US ingredients and traditions.
That was my plan for Sunday’s July 4th dinner. But I still had Saturday’s food to prepare.
A friend was coming over for brunch after she had done her shopping at the Farmers Market (she lives further away and tends to come later in the morning, while I’m always there when it opens at 8:00 AM). I thought I would make a Caprese Salad…a lovely dish for a summer lunch. I had bought some fresh mozzarella and Italian chicken sausage from the grocery store, and then got a lovely head of lettuce from Parker Farm that morning at the Farmers Market. Best of all, however, was that I had bought some cherry tomatoes from four different farmers at the CDFM. They all had different varieties, so it made a lovely mixture.
Then I cooked up the sausage, cut up the mozzarella, and loaded it all on top of the lettuce. I made a vinaigrette dressing and tossed it all together. It was easy to make and so delicious! Each cherry tomato had its own unique taste, so some bites were sweet, some more savory, some more acidic, etc. This is a GREAT recipe to showcase the different flavors of all the many varieties of cherry tomatoes our local farmers are raising right now.
So thanks to Parker Farm, Meadowhawk Farm, LB’s Farm, and Sapony Creek for providing the ingredients that took this salad from fine to FABULOUS!
We finished the meal with a item I mentioned in my last blog post: warm cornbread with fresh blueberries (from Parker Farm) and strawberries (our local strawberries are done but these were from a farm in Virginia), cooked in a cast iron pan we inherited from my husband’s father.
For dinner that night, we stayed on the lettuce and tomato theme, but added one essential additional ingredient: BACON. Yes, we had BLT sandwiches on bread baked that morning from one of our local bakeries (the B, L, and T all came from Parker Farm). I think making bacon the main course is unhealthy, so I don’t make those very often. But it was one of those “boring” American foods that my husband did not hesitate to wolf down.
Next it was on to the Fourth of July dinner itself. Quite often I cook one of our Farmer Market’s organic-ish free-range chickens on the grill to serve with corn, coleslaw, and some other vegetable. I thought I would stick to that formula, but with some alterations.
I wanted to make an Indian-flavored grilled chicken. Our family LOVES Indian food, and immigrants from India and Pakistan are the most prevalent Asian population in our community. I had tried that once before by marinading the chicken in a tikka masala sauce…which ended up being a mistake. The marinade mostly just stuck to the skin and burned to a black crisp. Fortunately, the chicken meat was still good, but it didn’t retain any Indian flavoring at all. So this time, I got a tikka masala paste and stuffed it inside the skin next to the meat. I like to grill my chicken over a beer can, so I knew the paste at the opening would drip out. But I tried to really stuff most of the paste into the cavities around the legs and the very top of the breast.
It started out like this:
I have to close the lid to the grill to chicken this way, so I can’t see what is going on. I have learned, however, to try to do the rest of food prep outdoors when cooking beer can chicken because things can go astray. Sure enough, after a little while it seems like too much smoke was coming out, so I checked and found our chicken had fallen over on one side. I just propped it back up and it went on cooking. However, it did result in a darker patch on one side of the breast.
I do peak in occasionally, but it was coming along nicely.
At some point, I noticed excessive smoke again, and found it was flaming all around the chicken. I don’t know why; I didn’t see anything different. But I had to cut off the gas and put out the flames with a saucepan of water. So we got a little more skin browning than I wanted. Still, I relit the grill and kept on cooking because my instant thermometer told me the meat wasn’t done yet.
By the time the thermometer registered the proper temperatures for fully cooked white and dark meat, it looked like this:
So a little browner than desired, but pretty beautiful, I thought. The chicken reminded me of a big old Buddha, just hanging out unconcerned despite flames leaping up around it. In fact, I think I’m going to call this Beercan Buddha Chicken when I make it again––and I WILL make it again!
While much of the skin wasn’t the best, the meat itself was lovely! It was moist and tender and retained much more of the tikka masala taste than my previous attempt. It passed my son and husband’s seal of approval, so it’s not just my wishful thinking.
On that plate in the picture above, there is a drumstick that was cooked separately. Just in case the whole grilled chicken was a disaster, I also cooked a tray of organic-ish drumsticks. But instead of Indian seasoning, I cooked these with a Korean Gochujang (Brown Rice Red Pepper Paste) barbecue sauce. Those are easier to cook and also turned out well, but had a different and spicier seasoning.
Korean cooking played another part in our meal. Instead of coleslaw, I made Korean kimchi, which is spicy fermented cabbage (with some other vegetables). Traditionally it is made with Napa cabbage, but I used regular green cabbage from Parker Farm and Savoy cabbage from Meadowhawk Farm. I also included some green onions and some Daikon radish from the store.
The problem was that I didn’t have this brilliant idea for kimchi until too late, so it didn’t really have enough time to ferment. We ate some and it was OK. However, most of it has gone back into its jar to spend more time fermenting properly.
More successful were my Vietnamese Summer Rolls. These are basically fresh raw vegetables cut into matchsticks, then wrapped in circles of rice paper and served with dipping sauces. So I chopped up lettuce and basil leaves and cut slivers of cucumber, sweet bell peppers, carrots, and squash (all from the four CDFM farms mentioned earlier…I’m losing track of exactly which vegetables I got from which farms at this point).
The rice paper circles are moistened to become pliable and wrapped about a selection of each different vegetable. They are very thin and delicate and I’m not a great wrapper, so I usually tore them in one or more places. However, I just wrapped the whole thing in a second piece of the rice paper so they stayed secure. I chilled them while cooking other things, then served them with a choice of Chinese fish sauce (my husband’s favorite), Vietnamese chili garlic sauce (my favorite), or Thai sweet chili sauce (unfortunately, that was Thailand’s only contribution to the meal. Even I can only work in so many different cuisines….).
I know these don’t look the best (my wrapping technique needs work), but they tasted really good.These are great additions to a summer dinner, especially with such fresh vegetables from the Farmers Market.
Of course, I substituted rice for the corn I usually serve with summer grilled chicken. However, it wasn’t just any rice; it was Chinese black rice, which is also know as Forbidden Rice because it was such a delicacy that only the Emperor’s household was allowed to eat it. It cooks up to a dark purple/black color, but otherwise looks like regular rice. I didn’t take a picture of it, so you’ll have to use your imagination. But it is supposed to be the healthiest variety of rice, with lots of vitamins and a lower hypoglycemic index, which is helpful for my husband’s diabetes.
I didn’t take a picture of it either, but I started the meal off with Japanese sushi for appetizers. I take no credit for that; I just bought it pre-made. But particularly my son likes it, and I wanted Japan to be represented. Also, once we have another meal off the chicken meat (probably a chicken Caesar Salad), I’ll use the carcass to make bone broth and then add whatever leftover chicken and vegetables we have to make some ramen soup, which is one of my son’s favorites.
Dessert was ice cream and berries (the ones that didn’t go into the cornbread dish the day before). There are disputes about where ice cream originated, but many think it was first recorded by the Mongols who introduced it to China (although that was apparently made out of fermented horse or yak milk and then frozen). So I’m awarding it to China for the purpose of our meal. Of course, I just bought commercial US vanilla ice cream. By the time I got to dessert, I was cooked out…
But, to all our Asian-American citizens, just know that most of us are delighted to have you as part of our national community. I really enjoyed the inspiration your recipes provided for a unique Fourth food experience.
So, that was our fun, fresh, foreign-ish, fusion Fourth of July meal. How about you? What food did you have to celebrate the country’s birthday?