Curried Mussel Chowder
Here's one of my favorite summer recipes, using both coriander and cilantro, although it is also great in the winter. You can use coconut milk instead of heavy cream, if you want to avoid diary.
The final chowder is brightly colored – very festive – and smells and tastes delicious – addictive even!
You can get very creative with the vegetables – this is how I prepared it for our Midsummer Eve’s Table-in-the-Field Dinner on July 28th 2018. It is one of our most-requested recipes from that evening!
4 pounds (usually two bags) of mussels. I really like to use certified organic PEI mussels or from a sustainable farm in the Long Island area
4-5 cups of water
2 cups of dry white wine – I love using a Vermentino from Sardinia, but any dryish white would be fine
1 stick of butter (grassfed and organic would provide best flavor)
3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil – I love the California Olive Ranch brand
2 pounds of small potatoes – can be any variety of colors or the small golden ones are excellent as well
4 small leeks or 2 large leeks – be sure to slice these in half length wise and thoroughly wash out any sand in between the layers
1 yellow bell pepper
1 cubanelle pepper
1 red bell pepper (or any combination of sweet peppers you happen to have)
1 large shallot or several smaller ones
4 garlic cloves – finely chopped
3 teaspoons of Curry Powder (not all curry powders are even close to the same flavor – curry is a mix of spices… I like Mountain Rose Herbs curry powder, which is a classic flavor. Or you can make your own curry – I’ve made it with 1 part fenugreek, 1 part coriander, 1 part turmeric, 1/2 part cumin, 1/2 part cardamon, 1/4 part cayenne – and I was very happy with it…)
1 -2 extra Tablespoons of turmeric
1 – 2 cups of heavy cream
Lots of chopped fresh parsley
Lots of chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and Black Pepper to taste
Start by adding the water and wine to a big stock pot or dutch over and bring it to a boil over high heat. Once it boils, bring the heat down a notch and let it settle at a rolling boil with cover ajar.
Meanwhile, clean your mussels – give them a good scrub and pull off any beards.
Add the mussels all at once to the boiling water and cover fully. Leave cover on for 4 minutes. Then check on them – give them a stir and if it seems some are still closed, put cover back on and let them go another 2 minutes.
Take pot off heat. Scoop mussels into a large bowl to cool – you don’t want them to over cooks at all because you’ll be re-heating them again later and you don’t want them to get rubbery from being overcooked.
Save your mussel water – that’s a huge amount of flavor! But you do need to strain the liquid to remove any sand or sediment left behind. Let it settle and restrain if necessary. This mussel broth will be a cloudy greyish color. You should have at least 4 cups – if you don’t have 4 cups, add a little water. If you have more than 4 cups, then use it all!
Process your mussel meats – I like to save out about 20 or so mussels in their shells. Pick out nice small ones. But then take the time to remove the rest of the mussel meats from their shells. Two many shells in the chowder will make it hard to serve and uses up two much sauce with shell. But I feel like you need the drama of a couple shells to make this chowder really pop!
Throw away any mussels that did not open – these are the bad ones.
The above steps can all be done a day or so ahead and refrigerated.
Prepare your vegetables – cut potatoes into bite size pieces that match one another in size as much as possible. I like to cut the carrots into rounds. Cut the peppers into pretty big pieces as they shrink a lot and can get lost in the curry. Cut the leeks pretty small and I usually slice the shallots into rounds.
Heat butter in a Dutch oven or heavy stock pot until melted then add potatoes. Salt liberally and stir and cook over medium heat for about 5-7 minutes. They smell awesome! Then add the carrots, peppers, leeks, and shallots. Cover the pot and let cook for about 12 minutes. I usually test a large piece of carrot to see if it is just-about tender. Once the carrots are almost tender, add the garlic and the spices including plenty of black pepper. I usually give it another sprinkle of salt now too. Cook for another minute or so with cover off, turn up heat a bit to get mixture sizzling.
Now add the Mussel Broth – I usually pour gently so that any extra sediment that may have collected on bottom of bowl remains behind. Bring it back up to a gentle simmer – and cook about 5 minutes, letting the vegetables absorb the mussel flavor. Pull out a potato and test for tenderness. If its fully tender, then add the cream. (you can also stop here with this recipe and save adding the cream until the following day… you want to add the cream and the mussel meats about an hour before serving.)
After adding the cream, adjust the heat – you don’t want it to wildly boil at this point – you want a very gentle simmer – then add the mussel meats.
The mussels are fully cooked at this point, but you want to allow the mixture to meld flavor-wise – let it cook gently for about 3 minutes.
Taste for salt and pepper… then leave it at room temperature for an hour. This resting period also helps build flavors. You can also save in fridge overnight at this point – I find that the mussels may get tougher, but the flavor may be even better…
When you are ready to serve, reheat gently and sprinkle with liberal amounts of the chopped parsley and cilantro. Serve with a crusty bread for scooping up every last drop!
If you find it simply too frustrating to grow cilantro in the summer, there are hot weather alternatives! Two of my favorites are:
Once shrimp are fully cooked and everything has come together, take pan off the heat and add the fresh cilantro. And enjoy!
I start cilantro seeds in pots inside the house or greenhouse in late March. I plant the seeds close together and then thin them out as they germinate and grow. You can thin by transplanting or by eating them. Cilantro 'shoots' are just as delicious as the branches of more mature plants. Cilantro is easier and quicker to harvest when planted close together. I find that in cooler weather, they tend to stay bushier when planted more closely. In the heat of summer though, crowding can instigate bolting...
I buy cilantro seeds in bulk - and I re-sow seeds every couple weeks. (Yes, we do use a lot of cilantro!) But the flavor is best when the plants are young, so it makes sense to plant new seeds in succession on a regular basis.
Once the temperature gets more dependable and consistent in later April and May, I start plant planting cilantro seeds directly in the garden or in large containers outside, and I continue doing so through the summer months into September. The summer plants will bolt and get coriander seeds. The seeds planted in September will probably stay bushy and green until first frost.
Thai Curry Udon Noodles
This is such a satisfying meal – toasted sesame oil and fresh chopped cilantro are the keys.
Meanwhile, boil some water and cook up some udon noodles. I really like the fat udon that you can find in the frozen section of Asian markets for this recipe.
Chick Pea Curry Recipe
(optional) Start by soaking whole cardamon pods in olive oil. Overnight is best, but a couple hours will soften them enough and infuse flavor into oil.
I do this in a big heavy bottomed pot.
Heat up olive oil or ghee and add chopped up scallions, a flavorful but not hot pepper, or chili flakes to taste, some onion too if you want. I usually put in lots of black pepper and salt here too. You can add chopped chicken here as well. Cook until onions are starting to soften or until chicken is starting to get opaque.
Then add chopped celery and carrots. Cook until they start to get a little brown on the edges and make a fond on bottom of pot.
Then add about 6 cups of chick peas (canned or soaked).
You can also add sliced or cubed potato at this point.
Then add a big sprinkle of cumin, a big sprinkle of tumeric powder, big sprinkle of coriander seed powder, a medium sprinkle of fenugreek powder,and a small sprinkle of cardamom powder (if not using pods). Mix well, scraping any browned bits from bottom of pot, and then add water or broth to cover all well.
Put lid on, slightly ajar and cook over low heat about an hour. Liquid should reduce and sauce should become thicker. Then add lots of chopped greens (spinach, swiss chard, kale, collards, pak choi, endive, escarole, all work well!). Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper.
You can add coconut milk, heavy cream or yogurt at this point but totally optional. Fresh chopped cilantro is fun to add just as you take it off the heat... or a big pat of butter to really make it rich and savory...
It is great with white rice! And each time you reheat it, it gets better and better!
2-4 tbsp sesame, peanut, or olive oil
2 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp minced ginger
About 1/3 cup finely chopped onion
A dash of red pepper flakes
About 2 tsp dried onion powder
Optional - A dash of cumin if you want…
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 lb shrimp (or you can do chicken or pork)
A variety of vegetables cut into bite size pieces - can be napa cabbage, bok choi, burdock roots, carrots, broccoli, bean sprouts, slices of ginger…
optional - re-hydrated black fungus is lovely in this recipe if you have it
1-2 packs of frozen udon noodles
5-7 scallions, chopped
a large dollop of toasted sesame oil
1 can of coconut milk
You could add a couple handfuls of baby spinach greens at the end
Large bunches of coarsely chopped cilantro
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tsp tamari
2 tsp of black pepper
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
3 zucchini or other summer squash – sliced lengthwise into 1/4 inch slabs
2 more Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
about 1-2 Tbsp of minced garlic
3/4 cup of diced canned tomatoes
1/2 cup of sliced pimiento stuffed green olives (I usually use the ‘queen’ size)
1/2 tsp of sea salt
1 more tsp black pepper
3/4 cup stock (could be vegetable or chicken)
a big bunch of chopped fresh cilantro
Add the cooked udon noodles.
Succession Planting and Cilantro
Plant some more cilantro now! Cilantro is a short-lived herb especially in warm conditions. Its main objective in life is to make seeds, which are used as the spice coriander. But cilantro is a great example of how the concept of succession planting works. At any given time during the spring, summer, and fall, we have several age groups of cilantro growing...
To make the sauce – heat the 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a wide saute pan on high heat. Once it starts to ripple, add the garlic and brown it. Then add the tomatoes, olives, salt, and 1 tsp black pepper. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring, then add stock. Keep cooking on high heat until reduced by one quarter and thickens up.
Take off heat, stir in most of the cilantro. Let settle a minute or two. Then pour the sauce over planks on the platter and sprinkle the rest of the cilantro on top.
This is great hot or cold ! A perfect midsummer meal to enjoy out in the garden.
Once the vegetables have softened and favors have all melded well, add a can of coconut milk. Once it is bubbling again, add shrimp and chopped scallion and tender vegetables. Then add the toasted sesame oil.
Here's a collection of some of our favorite recipes using this wonderful herb, both as cilantro and as the spice coriander:
I put all the ingredients on a large dinner plate. I then mash with a fork, and mix it together at the same time. Don't be tempted to over process this - it is better a little chunky.... taste for salt and add more if you need to. You can also add more cumin if you feel it would work.
3-4 tablespoons of cumin
about 2/3 cup of chopped fresh cilantro leaves
about 1/4 cup of finely chopped onion or shallot
Salt and pepper to taste (note: you'll probably end up adding more salt than you think...)
There's a million ways to make guacamole, but this is my favorite way to make it. I like that it stays bright so you can really enjoy the flavors of the avocado, cilantro and cumin. Sometimes when there are too many ingredients, the guacamole gets muddy.
The younger cilantro plants are bushy and green with plenty of shiny and brightly flavored cilantro leaves. I plant these all over the place. I do several patches in the main garden, but also fill some pots close to the kitchen with them. I also use cilantro as a green mulch or understory planting - a companion plant - which work especially well combined with tomato plants. Once tomatoes are tall, they provide shade and coolness underneath them, which helps keep the cilantro from bolting. The cilantro can be planted quite thickly - 1 seed per square inch or so (I don't actually measure it!). As the cilantro seeds germinate, they help keep moisture under the tomatoes, so you don't have to water as often, and you can pick tomatoes and cilantro at the same time! I usually have basil growing right around my tomatoes, and I grow dill in a very similar way to cilantro - so you can get a nice tomato salad all at the same time - you just need a drop of olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt, and a splash of vinegar...
Harvest aggressively - this also helps keep the plants from bolting, and cilantro grows back quickly. I gather the leaves in one hand around the middle, then cut with scissors about 2 inches from the ground. In optimum temperatures, the leaves will grow back in a couple weeks. You can wash before you use them, but if you are storing cilantro for a while in the fridge, store them as dry as possible. I usually put them in an open plastic bag with a paper towel in the bag with the greens to absorb excess moisture.
The oldest cilantro plants are tall - they can reach over five feet high! My oldest patch of cilantro has an abundance of the brown, dry coriander seeds. I pick these and spread them out on paper towels to make sure they are completely dry before I put them in jars to store and use with cooking. Coriander seeds are a main ingredient in some of my favorite recipes such as Chick Pea Curry (see recipes) and a regional type of Italian Sausage.
Natural insect control & pollination
The next group of cilantro plants are in full flowers - cilantro's airy white flower heads are a major nectar plant for a huge variety of pollinators and other beneficial insects. They are gorgeous in a big swath and attract good bugs like crazy. This is one of our main ways to deal with bad bugs - we don't spend time killing bad bugs - instead we create an infrastructure for insect-balance, attracting good bugs to naturally push out the bad bugs.
First make the marinade – whisk together the 4 Tbsp olive oil, tamari, 2 tsp black pepper, and the balsamic. Pour into a shallow dish and rub all over zucchini planks.
Heat up a panini press.(Or you can do this in a grill pan on stove or on an outdoor grill.) When the press is very hot, place the zucchini on it and press down with cover, searing the planks. You want to get dark grill lines, but not over cook the squash. SO keep it hot and fast. Once they get good grill marks, take them off the heat and place onto the platter you will be serving this on. You may have to do this is batches. Don’t do more than a single layer at a time.
In a hot wok or large saucepan, heat oil and add red curry paste. Add garlic and ginger and some chopped onion. Add red pepper flakes, onion powder, salt, and black pepper (and cumin if you are using it). Once it starts to really smell awesome and soften, add the tougher parts of the vegetables.
Papalo (Porophyllum ruderale) - hails from Mexico and other hot countries where the cilantro flavor is much loved but where weather conditions are often adverse to growing the leaves in abundance. It is slightly different from cilantro, but the flavor is wonderful. I made my best batch of guacamole ever using papalo. It thrives in the summer heat - turning into a 6 foot tall bush of blue-green pea-like leaves that puff out cilantro scent as you brush against them. This plant is also called Yerba Porosa, referring to the pores or scent glands on the leaves that are responsible for emitting the wonderful cooling puff of scent. This is one of my all-time favorite plants!
Vietnamese Coriander (Persicaria odorata) - another great alternative cilantro. Loves heat and wet conditions. I grow this in big tanks of water in my greenhouse in cooler months and outside in the heat of summer. Great cilantro flavor and super-easy to propagte. Simply cut the stems and place in a glass of water, and you will have roots in a matter of days. This is a beautiful plant too - with red coloring on segmented stems and pointy leaves with the "smudge" common in the Polygonaceae family of plants.
Grilled Summer Squash with Spanish-Style Olive Reduction
This recipe just makes summer squash so special and the star it should be in the kitchen. The reduction sauce is tangy and bright from the olives. You can use any type of summer squash – the grilled planks are simply covered with a tangy and rich olive and tomato based reduction sauce… great even cold.