Lately I’ve been obsessed with the color of food. For a while it was white vegetables, now it’s anything black. To me, black food says nutritional richness, exotic taste, ripeness, sexiness and just plain weirdness all mixed together. I can’t help but react to the contradiction it evokes, just by its intense color.
The importance of the color of food goes beyond our psychological reaction to it. Heidi Swanson in her cookbook, Super Natural Cooking, explains the nutritional value of phytonutrients “which have seemingly endless health benefits. Some believe that the lack of phytonutrients in a diet high in processed foods is a contributing factor to many of the diseases that are epidemic in industrialized nations.”
Black foods are seemingly high in the phytonutrients called anthocyanins. These pigments help protect plants from UV damage and are considered potentially powerful antioxidants. That’s why dark blue foods, like blueberries, are popular among nutritionists. We’ve all heard that eating a variety of foods in every color group insures a healthy diet. Usually they are referring to red, yellow, orange, blue, purple and of course, green. But what about black food? Recently I’ve read that black foods are becoming more popular in Asian countries, especially Japan. That makes perfect sense when you think about black vinegar, black soybeans, black rice.
I’m not saying that I’m going to start adding more black foods to my diet. Though, if there were more black local foods, I would definitely give them a try. We have our local black beans and black(ish) kale. The Alaskan black cod, also known as sablefish, could be considered somewhat local. For my black food, I chose mussels, not that the edible portion is black. I’ll admit that my choice of mussels was to pitch another local food. Then there’s the physical beauty, so irresistible for photography.
The next time you go to the farmers market, pick up a bag of mussels from Taylor Shellfish Farms. I wasn’t quite sure how to prepare them but found they are really very easy.
I got a 2 lb bag of Mediterranean Mussels which turned out to be more than enough for a pasta sauce for 2 and would probably serve 4 as an appetizer. You can store them in the fridge or in a cooler covered with a moist cloth. I actually did this for a couple of days and they were fine.
When you are ready to cook them, wash the shells well, discard any that are already open and pull the “beard” off (hard to describe but you’ll know it when you see it ). Once you remove the beard, the mussels may begin to open before you’ve had a chance to cook them. That’s okay, if you cook them soon afterwards. I learned this because I removed the beards, set the mussels out to photograph and saw all of these open shells. I called Taylor Shellfish and learned that’s the reason they don’t de-beard them before selling them.
Meanwhile I melted 3T butter in a heavy pan, sauteed several shallots and cloves of garlic, added 1/2 cup dry vermouth (white wine also works) brought it to a boil and added the cleaned mussels. Turn the heat down to a simmer, cover and steam for about 6 minutes. Remove any mussels that don’t open after about 8 minutes. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the top and serve right away. Make sure you have a loaf of crusty bread to sop up the juice.
I used my mussels as a sauce on top of black pasta (colored with cuttlefish ink). The jury is still out on the pasta. It reminded me of Charlie’s comment about one of the American Idol contestants, “If you close your eyes, you’ll realize that she has a very good voice.” The pasta tasted very good but somehow the texture and color……not so much.