One of the things that has always intrigued me about cooking has been how people have come to cook the things they do, and the methods they use to cook them. Maybe it comes from growing up with a lot of defrosting and can opening but I always thought from an early age that cooking should involve something a bit more interesting than watching something rotate in a little box. When I did my recent research into Danish Cuisine, I found a cooking method that was very ancient and also in its own way led me right back to Indian food. Who knew?
I'm talking about cooking in hay. Haybox cooking is sort of the original crock pot. It involves heating up what one wants to cook, then placing the hot pot, into a box packed with hay, putting a lid on things and then letting the food cook slowly. This is a method of cooking that preserves fuel, a lot of intense labor, and water. It's been used all over the world for ages. It's still being used in India.
Rumor has it that this method of cooking originated in Scandinavia which is where I ran across it in my investigation of Danish cuisine. The restaurant noma features dishes cooked in hay such as these quail eggs.
Other things can be cooked in hay also as I discovered. So I set off to see what I could do with some vegetables, carrots in particular, and I fell in love with the results. This is one of the easiest and delicious ways to cook vegetables, plus it's also fun. All you need is a sturdy pot and a pet store that sells hamster food. It doesn't get simpler than that, or weirder. I'll get to the seaweed later.
Carrots, Fingerlings, and Chanterelle Mushrooms Cooked In Hay With Seaweed Pesto
Here's What You Need:
2 small carrots per person
3 fingerling potatoes per person
2 oz dried Chanterelle mushrooms
A package of clean alfalfa, the sort used for food for hamsters, rabbits and other small varmints.
2 Tbs salt
1 qt water
1 cup of dried seaweed. Toasted nori sheets used for sushi are just fine and easy to get in most markets.
1/2 cup of walnuts
walnut, hazelnut, or olive oil
1/2 Tbs of lemon juice
2 large shallots chopped.
Here's What To Do:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
Wash and dry the carrots and fingerling potatoes.
Use organic vegetables for this recipe as you will not be peeling them. Small carrots are the best as they cook easily. Leave the tops on them but cut them down a bit.
Set the vegetables aside.
Soak the Chanterelle mushrooms in hot water for about 20 minutes until they're hydrated.
Fill a dutch oven or heavy oven-worthy pot, ( I used cast iron) with clean fresh alfalfa.
The reason for using hamster fodder is for cleanliness. Anything that is clean enough for animal fodder is clean enough for cooking purposes. Don't just go out to the barnyard, field, etc looking for hay. Clean fresh hay is what you need.
Place the hay in the bottom of the pot.
Wrap the cleaned and dried vegetables in cheesecloth.
Place more hay on top of the cheesecloth.
Light the edges of the hay so they smolder a bit. DO NOT set it on fire.
Put the lid on the pot, and pop it into the oven for about 40 minutes.
While the vegetables are cooking, make the seaweed pesto.
Place the seaweed, the chopped shallots and walnuts into the bowl of a food processor.
Pulse the food processor.
When you have a rough paste add in the oil.
You'll have to eyeball this to get the right proportion of smoothness. I added in about 1/4 cup of oil
You may want more.
Add in a bit of lemon juice for tartness.
Blend the mixture by pulsing.
Taste test your pesto. When you're happy with the results, set it aside.
When the vegetables are done take the lid off of the pot.
Lift the cheesecloth bundle out of the pot, and remove the vegetables.
Season them with a bit of sea salt if you wish.
Put them on a plate, 2 small carrots, 2 fingering potatoes and a few of the Chanterelles per person.
Drizzle the seaweed pesto over the vegetables and serve them up.
Cooked this way the vegetables are naturally sweet and tender and perfumed lightly with the fragrance of the hay. I served these carrots and potatoes as a single course in a multi-course meal. If you're looking for a way to truly experience the freshness of the season's vegetables, give this a try, plus cooking in hay is a fun novel way of cooking that you might just make a kitchen habit. I have a hot of hay left over, so I'm going to be doing a lot more experimenting with hay and seeing how it can be used in my kitchen with Indian cuisine... either that or I'm getting a hamster.
Coming up next, things get fishy with scallops, follow along on Twitter @kathygori