Spring is here, and as the season changes to summer, the evolution is reflected in the produce at the local farmer’s market. The colors move from dull and drab to bright and vibrant, while delicious flowers and berries come to life once again. This movement inspires growth and creation of the new – new ideas, new experiences and new recipes.
Inspiration from adventures stimulates passion and creativity for local individual chef Mackenzie Bentley. When cooking with berries, one often only thinks about desserts, or sweet and tangy dishes. But for Bentley, achieving a dish with all five basic tastes – sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami (savory) – is the goal for any well-rounded meal plan she creates.
“It’s about the acid, fat, color, texture – and it’s about nature, too,” Bentley explains. “There is a story from how the food and berries or their trees come from the soil, while their roots tell the story of where they came from, and I get to decide where they will go.”
Bentley believes the more simply a dish or plate is made, the bolder a statement about the food and ingredients it becomes. She illustrates this idea with a whole day of blueberry-inspired dishes.
“For instance, think about avocado toast, then add a blackberry serrano jam, a fried egg, bacon and a sprinkle of some sea salt on top,” says Bentley. “The berry then becomes the star of the plate, but all of the elements I contemplate before are carefully chosen to complement the blueberry, or bring the berry to life.”
For a lunch dish, she uses strawberry balsamic vinaigrette to punch up her Blueberry Beet Salad. Then for dinner, she uses the blackberry serrano jam again on a new twist for chicken wings.
“I try to think simple, to inspire the everyday kitchen,” Bentley says.
With the whole day of meal planning centered around the berry, she built all of her ideas and inspiration from the basics. She tells home cooks to do the same, to build blocks of flavor and continue to add to what is there to create a flavor story.
“Inspiration comes from the unrestrictive quality of playing with flavor and food,” she explains while creating more recipes for the berries she found at the farmers market. “I just want people to know you can’t be afraid to create a failure of a dish. But when you find one that works, write it down!”
In order to create a perfect original dish, Bentley suggests taking an old family recipe or an old favorite, and updating it with new ideas about food. She finds new ideas by traveling, talking to growers or letting her mind wander at a pick-your-own farm. She believes there is a connection you experience when you see where the food comes from, and with several pick-your-own farms in the OKC metro area, finding inspiration for an original farm-to-table meal with berries is only a short drive away.
“Find your inspiration and don’t be afraid to fail,” Bentley says as she encourages everyone to find their own culinary adventures in the kitchen.
► Blackberry Habanero Avocado Toast
Blackberry Habanero Jam:
2 cups blackberries
2 packets liquid pectin
1.5 cups apple cider vinegar
6.5 cups sugar
2 habaneros, seeded
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Fine dice the habaneros. Blend the blackberries and lemon juice until it creates a thick pulp. In a large pot bring apple cider, sugar and Habanero to a boil, add blackberry mixture to pot using a fine mesh strainer. Add pectin, boil another 3-4 minutes.
Remove from heat, skim foam from jelly, cool completely, place in mason jars, seal. Refrigerate.
Inch-thick sourdough bread, toasted
Layer of Blackberry Habanero Jam
Crispy prosciutto or bacon Fontina cheese slices
Place under a broiler until the cheese melts, sprinkle with Aleppo pepper.
► Beet, Spinach and Goat Cheese Salad with Strawberry Balsamic Dressing
Heat oven to 400F
Combine egg whites, salt and thyme in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly using your hands to create a texture resembling wet sand, about 2-3 minutes.
Pack 6 medium beets in salt mixture – make sure the beets are uniform in size and no skin is showing, lay on a baking sheet, bake until crust is golden brown and tender when pierced with a knife, about 45-50 minutes. Cool, peel crust and skin while still warm.
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons water
8 oz blueberries
Whisk vinegar, sugar, salt and water to dissolve sugar and salt. Place liquid in mason jar with blueberries and seal. Refrigerate 8 hours, or overnight.
Strawberry Balsamic Dressing:
1 cup strawberries
1/4 cup olive & co. strawberry balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup EVOO
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Pulse all in a blender.
Slice the beets, cut a red onion in thin slices, add pickled blueberries, spinach, pistachios, goat cheese, dressing, assemble the salad either on a plate or tossed in a bowl.
► Blueberry Serrano Chicken Wings
4 cups fresh blueberries
4 medium Serrano peppers (leave or discard seeds)
1 tablespoon honey
3 large garlic cloves
1/2 medium onion
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
Juice of 1 lime
Combine all ingredients together in a blender and blend on high until smooth. Place in pot on stove over medium heat and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and cool completely. Store in fridge.
Chicken Wing Brine:
6 cups filtered water
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
Mix solution and dissolve salt and sugar, add wings, refrigerate for an hour. Turn on grill with two heat zones: one hot for searing and one medium for cooking through. Rub grill with canola oil, pat dry and season the wings with salt and pepper, add wings to hot zone, grill for 3-4 minutes per side so they brown. When browned, move to the cooler area of grill to cook through (internal temp should be 165 F).
Place wings in a bowl and toss with the blueberry Serrano hot sauce until thoroughly coated. Plate and garnish with Thai basil and toasted sesame seeds.
Raspberry Quince Honey
3 cups raspberry
6 oz quince paste
1 cup honey
Juice of half lemon
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
Place quince paste, honey, lemon juice, cinnamon and salt in pot, until quince paste is melted, add the raspberries, simmer on medium for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, take off heat, cool, place in blender, blend until super smooth. Pair with Humboldt Fog goat cheese.
Berry Kefir Sorbet
2/3 cup frozen mixed berries
1/2 frozen banana, sliced
1/2 cup plain kefir
Blend until a smooth, creamy consistency.