Archive | April, 2011

Spring has sprung into a curry

11 Apr

I’m new at blogging and new at food writing.  So the other week, I sent my blog to a test audience to get some feedback: am I on the right track or should I perhaps consider a new hobby, like knitting? Luckily no one said knitting. I am not handy with a needle or anything resembling a needle. I nearly failed the sewing portion of home ec. And I still have a box with the jaunty, encouraging title of “knit that funky boa!” in the corner of my closet. But I digress. Along with the words of encouragement, came a request from my friend Laura. In cleaning out her cabinets for Passover like a good Jew (not like me and Ben, who just pretend that those boxes of pasta and rice aren’t there), she came upon some unused coconut milk. And she’s not quite sure what to do with it.  Coconut milk is pretty fattening so it’s not something I reach for every day but once in a while it’s nice. I tend to use it in soups (I’ve done Indian-spiced carrot and Thai-spiced sweet potato) or in Thai curries. I first attempted a Thai curry when we lived in Israel. There was a great Asian store on the corner near my first apartment in Tel Aviv that had all manner of exotic ingredients that were new to me and spurred my cooking curiosity. And the sweet Thai women who worked there would always hand out recipes so I had some clue of how to use said ingredients. When I moved in with Ben in Haifa, I quickly found my source for interesting, non-kosher items. They happened to carry a brand of Thai curry paste that I recognized from my Tel Aviv shop so one day I gave it a go. This curry paste helpfully had a basic recipe on the back, which I followed for my first attempt at a curry.  This proved to be a huge mistake. This was not curry paste for the Western palate. This was curry paste straight from Thailand. And both I and Ben soon realized that we should be careful when bragging about our ability to tolerate heat. Clearly a Thai person would roll on the floor laughing. Why? Because we cried that night. Fat tears streamed down our bright-red faces as we tried to consume this hellish concoction I so proudly ladled out. We ran to the refrigerator and dumped in every dairy product we could find: yogurt, labane, white cheese–they all went in to my now nowhere-close-to-authentic Thai curry just so we could choke it down. I find this same paste in certain Asian markets in California as well and have long since learned to check my pride at the stove and put in much less than recommended.

For this curry, I wanted it to reflect my delight that spring, with its  jasmine-scented air, blue skies and sun, has returned. I have no idea if they would ever eat this combination in Thailand but taking creative license is part of the fun of cooking. Asparagus season is in full swing so that’s the star. I’m also adding green garlic, leeks,  pea shoots and mushrooms. I planned on addding tofu for protein but then I saw scallops at the market. I’m a sucker for scallops. If you’re not or if they don’t fit into your diet, tofu would be great. I’m sure chicken would work too but I cannot give any tips on that. You’d probably end up with salmonella.

On that delightful note, here’s how to put some spring into your curry:

Note:  If you can’t find some of these ingredients, just leave them out or make substitutions. The curry paste is already flavorful and if you want a bit more zing, you can substitute some lime zest for the lime leaves, regular basil for the Thai basil (or just use another herb like cilantro or mint), spinach for the pea shoots, etc.

Spring Asparagus and Scallop Curry

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 stalk green garlic, minced

1 big leek, white and light green parts cut into rings

1 bunch of asparagus, woody bits discarded, cut into 1 inch pieces

1-2 cups cremini mushrooms, quartered

6-8 kaffir lime leaves

3/4 lb bay scallops

5 oz pea shoots

Handful Thai basil

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp brown sugar

2 tbsp green curry paste (add or subtract based on how spicy you want your curry)

1 can coconut milk (you can use low fat but it’s not quite as good)

1 1/3  c veggie broth or water

Juice of one lime

1 tbsp canola oil

1) Saute garlic and green garlic in the canola oil over medium high heat for about 30 seconds-1 minute (be careful it doesn’t burn).

2) Add your curry paste and cook a minute or two.

3) Add the coconut milk, half of the lime leaves, roughly torn, fish sauce, broth and brown sugar. Bring to a simmer.

4) Add the leeks, cook until they start to soften, then add the mushrooms and asparagus and cook until tender yet still have a bite to them.

5) Add the scallops and pea shoots and cook just a minute or so until the scallops are cooked through.

6) Stir in the Thai basil, remaining lime leaves, shredded, and juice of one lime.

7) Season to taste and serve with rice (Jasmine rice is nice but if you don’t have any, as I didn’t, regular brown or white rice will work fine. I threw some ginger,  lemon grass, lime leaves and garlic into my rice as it cooked to add some interest.)




Eggplant Has a Sour Puss

4 Apr

Last night was our meant-to-be-monthly food group. We get together with a few other couples and all bring a dish or two that fits into a theme. It’s a fun way to have a low-stress dinner party–you get the cohesion and sophistication of a progressive dinner (not the random collection of stuff that shows up to a potluck) but with less shopping, less chopping and perhaps most important, less cleaning. In any event, last night’s theme was Moroccan. I was very excited to dive into my Arabesque cookbook by Claudia Roden (it has Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon chapters) and after much indecision and avoidance of anything with filo dough (of which I have an unreasonable fear), I found three recipes to make. Then I learned that one of mine overlapped a bit too much with someone else’s choice. And I decided that I wasn’t so sure about recipe 3. So I went to Claudia Roden’s  Book of Jewish Food, which has recipes from all over the world, including Morocco.  There I found the two other recipes to complete my trio of salads. All three salads–sweet potato, mushroom and eggplant–were great but I think the eggplant was the runaway favorite.

You’ll need:

2 eggplants, weighing about 1 1/2 lbs

2 red bell peppers

7 cloves of garlic

3 tablespoons of  extra virgin olive oil  (you could probably cut this down)

1/2 cup of wine vinegar (I used red wine vinegar and topped it off with balsamic to get to a full 1/2 cup)

1 1/2 tablespoons honey (or more to taste. I added more to make the dish a bit less sour)

Salt, Pepper and Cayenne to taste

1) Roast the eggplants and peppers together, pricking them with a fork beforehand, in a 550 degree oven for 30 minutes

2) Let the vegetables cool and when cool enough to handle, peel them and cut them into cubes

3) Chop your garlic coarsely and fry it in the oil until golden

4) Take your pan off the heat and add your vinegar, honey, and seasonings.

5) Stir well and bring to the boil

6) Add your eggplant and peppers and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes

Serve cold

Serving suggestions: We had this as part of a medley of salads. I think it would also be good with bread or maybe alongside some fish.

Bok Choy Blossoms Into Something New

3 Apr

We get a lot of bok choy in our CSA box. We get regular bok choy, baby bok choy…we sometimes get more bok choy than I know what to do with. I like bok choy but it’s not my favorite of the greens. It’s tasty but I like a bit of the bitterness you get with kale, chard, spinach or others. But when I saw bok choy blossoms at the farmers’ market, I had to try them. My husband’s comment was: “I wonder if people actually eat that or if the farm just had some leftover leaves and figured they could fool some yuppies.” Fair enough–it would probably work. It did on me–but I am sucker for greens. Anyway, it is in fact legitimate but that’s besides the point. Bok choy blossoms are really good! Tender with a good bite (they don’t get slimy with a quick stir-fry), they taste fresh and perfect for spring. On the sign at the stand they recommend quickly stir-frying the blossoms with garlic and finishing with tangerine juice and soy. I decided to go with that idea and add some tofu for substance.

1 block firm tofu, cubed (if you live in Northern California and can find Hodo Soy, I recommend buying it)

Canola or peanut oil for stir-frying (use as much as you like; I tend to go light on oil to keep the fat down)

A few cloves of garlic, minced (more or less depending on how much you like garlic)

A bunch of bok choy blossoms

Juice of two tangerines

A couple splashes of soy sauce

A spoonful of cornstarch

Steamed rice with green onions and ginger (I threw everything in at once and steamed them together. Next time I would probably save the dark green bits and add them at the end)

1) Before you start stir frying, mix together your tangerine juice, soy and corn starch.

2) Stir fry your tofu in some oil until golden. Set aside.

3) Add a bit more oil to your wok or pan and fry the garlic for about 30 seconds–make sure it doesn’t burn because it will get bitter and nasty and ruin your dish. If it does burn, just toss it out and start over.

4) Add your blossoms and toss with the garlic, cooking just long enough to wilt.

5) Add the tofu back in and pour in the soy/tangerine mix.

6) Cook the veggies and sauce another minute or so until the sauce has thickened a bit and your mix has a glossy appearance

Serve with your steamed rice.

A Muffin Kind of Morning

3 Apr

I don’t make muffins a lot. Actually, I don’t even eat muffins a lot. I have nothing against muffins, they just don’t fit in my lifestyle. During the week I go to my old standby of shredded wheat n’ bran and string cheese for breakfast (trust me it’s good) and on weekends when I thankfully don’t have to wake up at 6 am, I take advantage, sleep in and tend to go for a lunchier type of brunch or skip breakfast altogether. However, muffins do hold a special place in my heart. Before my body betrayed me and decided I must have at least 8, preferably 9 or 10 hours (if I can swing it on a weekend) of sleep per night, I used to wake up early and make muffins with my dad. While my mother and brother slept, we whipped up delicious breakfast treats to enjoy before we were subjected to some manner of educational trip.  He’s still an early bird and still makes muffins, biscuits or popovers on weekend mornings and after visiting my parents in January, I decided I should do some breakfast baking. California’s March weather obliged, with sheets of rain and chilly misery–the perfect muffin making weather. So a couple of weeks ago, while my husband was at the gym, I decided to whip up some muffins. I remembered seeing a recipe for savory ricotta muffins in my Mollie Katzen breakfast book, Sunlight Cafe, and was very excited about my burst of early (well early-ish) morning domesticity. Until I read the recipe. And realized, not only did I not have enough ricotta, but I didn’t have dill, chives, buttermilk or baking soda. But it was raining and I was determined: determined to make these muffins and determined not to leave the house on an ingredient run. So I improvised a bit. I’m not quite sure what the muffins should taste like exactly, but I came close enough that I think they would be in the ballpark of what I produced. To serve, Mollie suggested cream cheese, tomato, cucumber and maybe some smoked salmon. We had some smoked salmon spread from the amazing Pasta Shop in Oakland and I served the muffins with that, alongside a salad with lettuce, endive, walnuts and a lemon vinaigrette.

My Savory Not So Dilly and Somewhat Full of Ricotta Muffins

Adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Cafe

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (Mollie used white but says in her book that wheat pastry flour is an acceptable substitute, except for yeasted breads)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder (I Googled my lack of baking soda predicament and learned I could add more baking powder instead)

4-5 tablespoons sugar

About 5 tablespoons mixed herbs, chives and/or green onions (I did a mix of rosemary and finely sliced green onions; Mollie suggested dill and chives)

1/2 cup ricotta

1/2 cup fresh goat cheese (This was my substitute for the missing ricotta)

1 cup milk mixed with 1 tablespoon lemon juice (my solution to the missing buttermilk)

2 large eggs

4 tablespoons melted butter

1) Preheat your oven to 350 and lightly spray 8 standard muffin cups with nonstick spray (if you like smaller muffins, do 10 cups)

2) Combine your dry ingredients and herbs in a medium bowl

3) Put the cheese in a second medium bowl and beat in your soured milk (or buttermilk). Add the eggs one at a time, beating well with a medium sized whisk after each addition

4) Pour the cheese mixture, along with the melted butter, into the dry ingredients. Using a spoon or rubber spatula, stir from the bottom of the bowl until all dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix; some lumps are ok.

5) Fill your muffin cups, going all the way to the top for big muffins and 4/5 of the way there for smaller muffins.

6) Bake in the middle of your oven for 20-25 minutes or until the muffins are lightly browned on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place the muffins on a rack to cool and wait at least 30 minutes before serving.