Posts Tagged ‘spicy’

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Dreamy. (LAKSA TOFU)

January 4, 2016

ucc_laksa

Soup is on and I’m psyched. Lately I just want to take care of everyone and there is no better way than a big soup. It’s also handy to fight the chills, sharpen immunity and transform refrigerator odds and ends into a delicious, shareable meal.

As it’s finally winter in my hometown, I can’t help but dream of a Gilligan’s Island, where it rains coconuts and fish sauce douses everything. I am not sure where that crew landed, but Southeast Asia, and its exceptional array of cuisine, is where my mind is going. All the fresh ingredients that grace the plate and techniques that conjure flavor and texture, make complex dishes of rather straightforward ingredients. Deeper studies reveal an endless tome of recipes, unique to each person cooking. Paradise in more ways than one.

In hopes of bridging my desire for exotic beach holidays and wintry wonderland realities, I spent some time cooking laksa, a coconut-based soup that is served over noodles, the result of a fusion between Chinese and Malay cooking. Laksa is also hearty with protein, vegetables and spices, it will ground an appetite with satisfaction and warmth, while the mind gets in a boat and sails.

In Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Southern Thailand, laksa is wildly popular and comes in many varieties, sporting tofu, fish, poultry or beef  intermingled with an endless parade of vegetables. I fill my quota with a couple of contrasty colors like orange, green, red, white, thanks to things like winter squash, green beans, tomatoes, parsnip, eggplant, or whatever seems logical. A simple homemade spice paste, with a healthy dose of curry and turmeric, sets the backdrop a golden yellow. A handful of bean sprouts adds crunch on top. Like many dishes from this part of the world, garnishes are key. Bright, aromatic lime, chilis, fresh herbs and extra fish sauce complete the dish, and the daydream.

LAKSA TOFU

Spice paste:
2 stalks lemongrass
1/2 cup roughly chopped shallots
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup roasted macadamia nuts or almonds
1 teaspoon oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Soup:
1/4 cup oil
2 cups cubed eggplant (1 inch cubes)
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 can coconut milk (14 ounces)
3 cups water
3 kaffir lime leaves
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 cups cubed butternut squash (1 inch cubes)
1 cup sliced napa cabbage
1/2 pound tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes
3 scallions, chopped
1 cup mung bean sprouts, plus extra for garnish
cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)
red chili slices for garnish (optional
kosher salt
1 lime, cut into wedges

your favorite noodles, cooked

Remove the tough outside layer or two from the lemongrass stalk.Slice off the hard end (root end) and discard, along with the outer layers.

Make thin slices, starting at the root end, up the pale part of the stalk just until it starts to become deeper green. Reserve the green stalks.

Place chopped lemongrass in a small food processor (or blender) along with shallots, garlic, nuts, oil and salt. Puree the ingredients to form a paste-like consistency. Set aside.

Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a medium sized pot. Fry the cubes of eggplant with a generous pinch of salt until golden brown.

Remove eggplant with a slotted spoon and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

In the same pot, fry the spice-paste until fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the curry and turmeric, and sauté for another minute or two before adding the coconut milk and water. Scrape the bottom of the pot to release any cooked bits that are clinging.

Toss in the kaffir leaves, sugar, fish sauce, a teaspoon of salt and squash. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer.

Add the leftover lemongrass stalks, using them to stir the soup occasionally. Simmer until squash is almost cooked, about 8 minutes.

Add in the cabbage, tofu, scallions and sprouts along with the cooked eggplant. Simmer all together for another 5 minutes and taste for seasoning.

Add more salt, sugar or fish sauce as needed. Remove kaffir lime leaves before serving. Place a serving of noodles in each bowl. Ladle soup on top and garnish with fresh mung bean sprouts, cilantro leaves, lime wedges and/or chili slices.

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Catchup! (AN OVERDUE POST ON ROMESCO)

May 29, 2014

ucc_romesco

 

 

Romesco is a smokey condiment of the Spanish influence that can be made lots of ways and most often incorporates some kind of red pepper. It beautifully accompanies food from grilled meats to poached eggs to any raw or roasted vegetables you choose. It is an especially perfect topping for straight vegetables because it adds a touch of decadence to otherwise square stuff; roasted cauliflower, salt boiled potatoes, grilled spring onions, for example.

I do not consider my cooking very decadent. I was raised eating all kinds of tofu and later went to a vegan culinary school (even though I am an equal opportunity eater). Especially on this website, I have geared my recipes towards scoring healthy points, being quick/easy and most importantly towards being ‘damn delicious ways to eat stuff that is good for you’. That’s the mission.

When this blog was formed in the year two thousand and something, I was in the thick of cooking for clients who wanted to eat just right. For many years I didn’t often use bacon and heaps of butter or drench things in cream or deep fry. Don’t get me wrong, these are obviously awesome ways to cook and once in a while extremely useful but I tried not to lean on them, finding other ways to develop flavor and richness.

Now I am back on the restaurant scene. I do not work in a health-food place and I am given the opportunity to roll out lots of small plates with big flavor, no holds barred. I can stretch my style of cooking a little further into the naughty department. Frying* has been my favorite lately. Getting a crisp crust on lamb patties, putting an extra crunch on nuts or, as you will see here, cooking some garlic slices in oil until they are like little golden nuggets. And though this particular recipe for Romesco is, in fact, vegan, lately I am having lots of fun smearing my somewhat austere culinary upbringing with a little bit of pork fat.

ROMESCO THIS WAY

7 cloves of garlic, sliced (plus one whole clove)

4 chunks of bread, about 1 cup

2 whole tomatoes, canned or fresh, chopped

1 tablespoon smoked paprika (pimenton)

2 red bell peppers, roasted

40 blanched almonds*

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons of the best sherry vinegar you have

5 jarred piquillo peppers

1-2 teaspoons kosher salt

black pepper to taste

pinch cayenne

oil for frying (canola is fine)

In a small skillet, pour enough frying oil so that it is about an inch deep. Warm it up and toss in one slice of the garlic. When it begins to bubble around the edges, remove from the oil and add the rest of the garlic slices (reserving one clove), stirring frequently until golden.

Remove garlic with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel. Add bread chunks to the oil and fry on both sides until crisp, remove from skillet onto paper towel.

Discard all but a few tablespoons of oil from the skillet, heat it up again and sauté the chopped tomatoes for a few minutes. Add the smoked paprika and a teaspoon of salt to the skillet and stir to combine with the tomatoes. Cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes.

Now that all of the components are prepped, time for the easy part.

Place the fried garlic, the raw garlic clove, the bread, the tomato mixture, roasted peppers, almonds, olive oil, sherry vinegar, piquillos, remaining teaspoon of salt, some black pepper and a pinch of cayenne into the bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth.

Check for seasoning and adjust. Also adjust the consistency with more oil or vinegar to thin and more bread or almonds to thicken.

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Roasted asparagus waiting patiently for romesco and a soft boiled egg…

 

 

 

 

* When I was a culinary student I once got roped into a call for one of the competitive cooking shows…I don’t remember which. When asked about one of my special skills in the kitchen I reluctantly replied, “I can fry”.

** Any almonds would work, roasted, salted, etc. To blanch raw almonds, plunge them in boiling water for 1 minute and drain. When cool enough to touch, slip the skins off… but do it before the skins dry or else it becomes difficult.

 

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A little lesson. (FARMERS MISO SOUP)

September 19, 2013

ucc_miso

I am a miso lover. I need to have miso soup at least once a week, usually as the precursor to some sushi even though that feels like the lazy way out. Miso paste in general has so much more potential than a few cubes of tofu and some lonely sails of seaweed. By learning a few different (easy!) ways to use it, miso can be a staple in your fridge forever and ever. You, as the owner of a high-quality tub of miso, can reap the many health benefits for just as long.

Since it’s a fermented food, it is important is to avoid boiling miso. High heat will harm the living enzymes that make this a genuine superfood as it will also dull the unique flavors. Use miso to ‘finish’ dishes that you have created rather than adding it when there is still cooking to be done.

Miso to-do list:

-Mix into softened butter to make ‘miso butter’, the best topping for seafood ever.

-Mix with minced garlic and chili paste as a condiment for grilled meat.

-Whisk into salad dressing or marinades.

-Just miso solo in a bit of simple broth.

-I’ve seen people use it in pesto as a substitute for parmesan but…

Below is a hearty soup recipe that uses a bunch of fantastic end-of-summer vegetables, but any mixture of veg would work. Once the soup is off of the stove, dunk a measuring cup into the broth, scooping out about one cup of hot liquid. Drop a few spoonfuls of miso into measuring cup and whisk/stir until it is dissolved. Pour the miso mixture back into the soup pot and adjust to taste. You can simply repeat this process until you have reached the desired amount of umami.

Try potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, cabbage, spinach and/or noodles. This recipe can be as elaborate or as simple as you’d like, the main thing is hot (not boiling) liquid*, dissolve miso, enjoy.

FARMERS MISO SOUP

(serves 4-6)

2 quarts stock or water

1/2 cup onion, chopped

1 kohlrabi, peeled and cubed into small chunks

1 celery rib, thinly sliced crosswise

1 cup chopped kale leaves

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 pound tofu, cut into small cubes

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 splash of rice vinegar

a few red pepper flakes

1/4 cup wakame seaweed, soaked in cold water until softened

1/4 cup miso paste (any color)

1/2 carrot

1 inch ginger

chopped chives to garnish

  • Place the stock in a large pot and bring to a gentle boil. Add onion, kohlrabi and celery. Simmer about 10 minutes. 
  • Add kale, garlic and tofu. Cook until all vegetables are tender, about 10 more minutes.
  • Remove from heat. Stir in soy sauce, vinegar and red pepper to season. Taste and adjust. Add wakame.
  • Take one cup of stock out of the pot and place in a bowl or measuring cup. Whisk miso into the hot broth and pour it back into the soup. Taste and adjust.
  • Ladle soup into bowls and using a fine grater (preferably a microplane), grate some carrot and ginger into each soup and sprinkle with chives to garnish.
  • When reheating the soup, warm it but don’t boil. I’ll say it again.

*Make your own stock! I love stock making.

https://upchefcreek.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/elaborations-veggie-dashi/

https://upchefcreek.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/balancing-it-out-alkalizing-broth-2/

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Market Sketches. (MEXICAN PRODUCE)

January 15, 2013

MX_oranges

Orange Limes

MX_hotnuts

Spicy Peanut Mix with Crispy Garlic

MX_frutas

Mixed Fruit

MX_guajillos

All drawings made in Oaxaca, México (2008) Watercolor and Ink on Paper

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New traditions. (MUSSELS IN CHORIZO AND BEER)

December 30, 2012

mussels_pic

When the Saints played the Colts in Superbowl XLIV (2010) I made up this dish, Mussels in Chorizo and Beer. It was the product of us being in a foreign neighborhood and running around trying to find cool ingredients for an extraordinary Superbowl concoction to make at our friends’ place. While it was being eaten almost no one yelled at the TV.

Even though it has no particular cultural alliance, once the mussels and chorizo came together I felt like it was reminiscent of something my Italian grandparents or great grandparents would have served back in the day. Back when Sundays were still a red sauce based, all day eating affair and calamari with the tentacles still totally freaked me out. (The ‘rubber bands’ were okay though.) All of my aunts, uncles and cousins would fight for a seat in the dining room, the losers sent to the card table parked in the back bedroom. I was the youngest and had my choice of laps to sit on, a great strategy especially at dessert.

The Christmas after that gourmet Superbowl when my cousins and I decided to honor the Feast of the Seven Fishes, I knew exactly what my contribution would be. We simmered pounds and pounds (and pounds and pounds) of mussels in the garlicky tomato sauce studded with spiced sausage. A side of pasta for folks like my dad and sliced up focaccia for the dunkers. The table groaned under six more fish, two more pasta dishes, salads and sides galore. It was a beautiful sight. All of the foods we were most excited about, all at once.

In more recent years we have experimented with some other seafoods and we have learned how to reign it in. This year, back by popular demand, we made the mussels again. I think they might become a regular addition to the table. We have some traditions and they are not strict, but it is sure that favorites will make an appearance; manicotti, antipasto with the biggest hunk of Parmiggiano you have ever seen, killer seafood salad, rum cake. Somehow even a platter of sushi has made it into the yearly mix. Our feast grows and changes a bit each Christmas, as does our family and by the same token it has a strong foundation in our history and represents the memories we share however hazy they may be. (Next year I promise to nail down the recipe for Pete’s Seafood Salad That We Think Grandma Used To Make.) The resulting dinner, both nostalgic and new, reflects everyone who has participated in it. And out of love, it also reflects all of those who eat it.

MUSSELS IN CHORIZO AND BEER

1 pound chorizo or hot Italian sausage

1 tablespoon butter

1 onion, chopped

2 shallots, chopped

1 tablespoon fennel seed

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 large can chopped tomatoes

1 can beer

1/4 cup fresh dill or other fresh herb

4 pounds mussels, scrubbed

salt and pepper

  • Cook chorizo in a large saucepan, breaking it up into pieces until browned.
  • Remove meat with a slotted spoon and drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat.
  • Add butter to the saucepan and sautee onion, shallot, red pepper flakes and fennel seed with a touch of salt and pepper.
  • Stir in garlic and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and add beer and dill.
  • Bring to a boil again and add mussels.
  • When most of the mussels have opened and are cooked through, Remove them and arrange in a large serving dish. Pick out and discard any mussels that have not opened.
  • Boil the tomato mixture for about 3 minutes, add the chorizo back in and heat through.
  • Season well and pour over the mussels in the dish.

Serve with bread for dipping.

(Photo courtesy of Jackii Laurenzano)

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For the many. (GREEN CURRY PASTE)

September 14, 2012

World Map: Ink on Paper, 2007

Curry means different things to different people and cultures and that’s cool except when you only think of one and leave out all the others. When I was a kid it was a noxious yellow powder that my mom put in some sort of vegetable casserole, turning everything in the pan a florescent color. Bad news. By now I have long since (almost) buried that memory under many happy moments eating curries from the Caribbean, India and Nepal, China, Japan and different parts of Southeast Asia.

A common bond that links this ambiguously named dish across the universe is that a blend of spices and aromatics usually comes together to create the base flavor. The curry could be saucy or dry, include any number of veg, protein and/or starches. It can be tart, sweet, spicy, ridiculously spicy, etc. The layout will be different in each region or in each town or even in each household. It’s a personal thing.

I have been experimenting with curry pastes reminiscent of Southeast Asia. Recently I made a green curry that is loosely Thai-inspired but really just a warm, rich and satisfying blend of herbs, spices and alliums. To activate the ingredients in the paste it is best to gently saute it for a moment in the pot and then stir in whatever liquid mixture (water, stock, coconut milk, beer, etc) you like. Simmer until the flavors fuse. A little bit of tweaking with salt, sugar lime juice, vinegar and a delicious ‘curry’ is born.

When I served this at a luncheon, I put an array of garnishes next to a pot of coconut milk-based green goodness so each person partaking in the meal could make their own perfect bowl using the curry broth as either a soup or a sauce, or not at all! With things like soba noodles, dry sauted tofu, chilies, marinated seaweed, mushrooms, peas, sweet potatoes, tiny tomatoes and fresh herbs everyone decorated their bowl. It was an interesting exercise in creating a balanced meal and everyone made a unique curry all their own.

GREEN CURRY PASTE

(makes about 1/2 cup)

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

15 black peppercorns

6 dried chilies, soaked in water and de-stemmed or three fresh chilies, chopped*

1/3 cup shallot, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves and stems

7 cloves garlic, chopped fine

1 tablespoon ginger, chopped fine

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

3 tablespoons lemongrass, chopped fine (reserve stalks)

1 lime, zested

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon vegetable or flavorless oil

  • Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry skillet until frgarant, about 5 minutes. Grind to a powder with the peppercorns in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. 
  • Add the rest of the ingredients to the mortar and pestle (or a food processor) and grind to a fine-textured paste.
  • Store in a lidded container in the fridge for one month or freeze for up to 3 months.

* more chilies = more heat… go for it!

(I’m not pretending to be primitive or anything. I throw that stuff in the processor.)

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You know you love it. (SRIRACHA)

July 10, 2012

Aren’t you glad to know.