By Joe Zentner

It is called brunch, and it is weird. A linguistic and culinary hybrid, brunch is a breakfast that often begins with a cocktail. Or a lunch that’s organized around a stack of blueberry pancakes. It’s neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring, although all three items can wind up on the same plate.

Many people’s favorite meal of the week, brunch is usually served at a civilized hour, rarely before 11:30 in the morning and seldom later than 2:30 in the afternoon. Depending on your group, brunch can last for an hour or linger on until the cocktail hour begins around 5 p.m.

The origins of brunch aren’t clear. We do know that on Sundays, it was common practice among early Christians to have a large post-church meal. Catholics require fasting before Mass, so after
leaving their place of worship, many people ate a large celebratory meal combining breakfast and lunch.

America may not have invented the concept of brunch, but we definitely made the meal a hit. Citizens of this country became very taken with brunch after World War I. During the Roaring ’20s,
partygoers created a mini-brunch that took place in the wee hours of the morning between dinner and breakfast, to refresh people who had been dancing and drinking all night long. The meal was based on locally available foods.

Eggs Avocado, Benedict Style

(serves 2–4)

For a scrumptious-tasting brunch, a smooth sauce of avocados mashed with lemon replaces Hollandaise sauce in this delicious variation on the traditional

Eggs Benedict.
2 ripe avocados
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
Dash of cayenne pepper
4 slices Canadian bacon
2 English muffins, toasted
4 poached eggs
Parsley for garnish

Cut avocados into quarters and remove pits. Then spoon avocado pieces into a zip-top plastic bag. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper, press out air and seal bag. Cut tip off one end of bag and stand it up.

In a skillet, cook Canadian bacon until lightly browned around edges. Place one slice of bacon on each muffin half. Top with a poached egg and squeeze avocado spread over egg.

Ridgeback Shrimp with Roasted Corn Cakes and Mixed Greens

8 ounces shrimp, chopped
2 cans roasted and shelled corn
1 red pepper, diced
2 scallions, chopped
9 large eggs, beaten
½ cup breadcrumbs
¼ cup flour
4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound mixed salad greens
3 key limes
4 ounces additional olive oil

Heat an ounce of olive oil in a saucepan; add red pepper, scallions and corn. Then add shrimp, mix, remove from heat and allow to cool.

In a large bowl combine eggs, breadcrumbs and flour. Heat remaining oil in a cast-iron skillet. Drop silver-dollar-size “fritter” in hot oil, cook until fritter is brown (approximately 2 minutes per side), remove from oil, dress greens with lime juice and olive oil and serve.

Prawn Cakes

Santa Barbara Spot Prawns, a Southern California catch, are technically shrimp but are oversized and taste like sweet lobster. Named for the distinctive white spots on their reddish-brown shells, Spot Prawns have a delicate flavor and firm texture.

3 pounds Spot Prawns
2 tablespoons red chile sauce
4 eggs
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons lime juice
4 tablespoons ranch dressing
2 cups breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon butter

Put two quarts of water into a pot, add two tablespoons salt and bring to a boil. Add prawns and cook for two minutes. Remove pot from heat and drain contents into a colander. Set prawns aside to cool. Remove the tails, peel them, coarsely chop and set aside.

Put chile sauce, eggs, parsley, lime juice and ranch
dressing into a mixing bowl and mix well using a
whisk. Add shrimp, then breadcrumbs, and mix. Set
mixture aside for half an hour before forming prawn
cakes. To form the cakes, divide mixture into eight
equal-size balls and press each into a flattened cake.
Set aside on a large plate.

Melt butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat.
Add prawn cakes to pan but do not crowd. Cook
each cake for about 3 minutes, then turn over and
cook 3 minutes more. Cakes should be golden brown
when done. Serve immediately.

Brunch Salad with Almonds and Pixie Tangerines

4 ounces rucola (an aromatic Italian salad green)
1 cup pitted and sliced green olives
½ cup toasted almonds
½ fennel bulb
4 peeled Pixie tangerines, separated into segments
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
8 ounces Ricotta Salata
Salt and pepper to taste
Place rucola, olives and almonds in a large bowl.
24 edible ojai&ventura County spring 2010
24 edible ojai&Ventura County summer 2009

Cut the fennel half in half; then, using a sharp knife, shave fennel lengthwise into paper-thin slices. Add fennel slices and tangerine segments to bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Toss salad and transfer to a large serving bowl. Using a fine-rasp grater, lightly shred Ricotta Salata over salad and serve.


Brunch requires the full gamut of beverage availability. You need to have on hand coffee, hot tea, iced tea, juices and other non-alcoholic beverages just for starters. I would recommend that you also have the fixin’s for Bloody Marys (tomato or V8 juice, horseradish, limes, celery stalks, hot sauce, Old Bay seasoning and vodka) and mimosas (Champagne and orange juice). Beer and white wine are a good idea, especially if you think the brunch might turn into one of those casual hang-out-all-day affairs.

Though definitely casual, brunch is suitable for a sit-down meal in the dining room, a picnic in the backyard or anything in between. Brunch should above all be fun. And you get to serve booze without anybody looking at you strangely for drinking in the morning.

When conversations get cooking in the kitchen or around the patio grill, there’s no telling what the culinary outcome may be. Be a part of the inspiration. Life is short.

Joe Zentner is a retired professor and freelance writer who thrives on indigenous foods.

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