samedi 31 juillet 2010

Chili Dipping Salt for Fruit

Southeast Asians like my mother have no qualms about dipping into spicy and steaming food in full summer heat. There’s something cleansing and refreshing about sweating both inside the body and out.

If you can handle the heat, try dipping fruit slices in a salt and chili pepper mixture. Finely mince fresh red chilis and add to sea salt or regular salt, then crush further if needed. The salt enhances the sweetness and tanginess of the fruit and the chili adds some unexpected bite.

My mother’s favorite is pineapple—try also peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, or grapefruit.

lundi 26 juillet 2010

Quiche with gruyere and chives

Quiche is the fanciest-sounding easy French thing to make. It’s a pie crust filled with a delicious fluffy mixture of egg, cream, and anything else you wish to add. The only restriction in my book is not to get carried away with fillings—the egg should really be central to the dish, not just a binding for a load of vegetables and proteins. Thus I present to you a simple quiche with just grated gruyere cheese and chopped chives.

Cream and egg sounds a bit heavy, but this is a French dish, after all, and a French pie at that (quiche is often called a “savory pie” (tarte salée) in French). Don’t add milk instead of cream, ever. Not only do you sacrifice on taste and texture, but the extra liquid from the milk will make the pie crust soggy.

Cultural note: quiche is never eaten for breakfast in France, as the French don’t eat eggs for breakfast (anecdote: I’m teaching a lesson on meals to my 5th grade class, and we’re making a list of foods we eat at each meal. One student raises his hand: “Madame, there’s a mistake under “breakfast”—no one would eat eggs for breakfast!”). The point is, don't limit your options; a quiche paired with soup or a small salad is more than substantial enough for a good dinner.

Cultural note: to be called une quiche in French is a mild insult, something like a nitwit.

Quiche with Gruyere and Chives

Pre-prepared or frozen pie crust
About 4 eggs, or enough to fill the crust
¾-1 cup heavy cream
1 cup gruyere cheese, grated
handful of chives, chopped
salt, pepper

1. Beat the eggs with a whisk in a mixing bowl and add the cream, beat until smooth.
2. Add the gruyere, chives, salt, and pepper.
3. Pour mixture into the prepared crust and bake at 350 F for about 35 minutes, or until the top is firm and a knife inserted into the center of the quiche comes out clean.

mercredi 21 juillet 2010

Banana Cake

Did I mention that I hate bananas? Always have. The texture is gross, the form repellent, and the odor unspeakably unpleasant. The worst part of the fruit is the stub at the bottom end, the bananus. Unlike other fruits, here you’re expected to eat the anus. Disgusting.

But, I have also mentioned my quest to overcome dislike for individual edible plants and food substances. Therefore, I’m taking a deep breath, holding my nose, jumping in the deep end and tackling bananas.

I can ease my way in with banana baked goods. The mushy texture lends itself well to baking, giving moistness and sponginess to the dough, and the taste is more subtle and can be cut with other flavors.

I'll admit that this banana cake is easy and pretty darn good, for something with bananas in it. It would work equally well in muffin form.

Banana cake with chocolate chips and golden raisins

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups mashed banana (about 3 medium bananas)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup golden raisins

1. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add egg, vanilla, and bananas, beating thoroughly.
2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, soda, baking powder, and salt. Add to creamed mixture and mix well.
3. Spoon batter in to a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

jeudi 15 juillet 2010

Temaki-zushi (home sushi party)

Temaki-zushi literally means handmade sushi; that is, sushi that is do-it-yourself instead of bought and served at a restaurant.

Sushi in western countries is generally thought of as trendy in-crowd food, the kind of restaurant you take a date to and try to impress by explaining the menu before the waiter can. It’s expensive and exotic. In Japan, however, people often make a much more casual kind of sushi at home and for parties. The sushi is not prepared beforehand; instead the rice, nori wrap, sauce, fish, and other fillings are laid out buffet-style for the guest to fashion her own roll.

The advantages to this are numerous: it’s quick and easy to prepare, it’s much less expensive, and it pleases everyone’s tastes. You lose out on impressing your date by how much money you blow and how many urchins you can eat at one meal—but who wants to date someone who’s impressed by that anyhow?

If you really want to impress your date, first know what sushi actually means: the word sushi refers not to “raw fish” (this is sashimi) but the kind of rice used (short-grain rice flavored with rice vinegar). That means that, contrary to popular belief, anything at all served on the sushi rice is legitimate sushi, including avocado and cream cheese (this is popular in Japan), eggplant, eggs, canned tuna, or corn and mayonnaise (also a favorite in Japan).

Maki is sushi in a roll, wrapped in the nori (seaweed) paper and sliced into sections. Nigiri is the individual ball of sushi with topping. While maki is much more commonly eaten in the U.S., a combination of different nigiri is the popular way to go in Japan. I find that sushi in the U.S. differs from sushi eaten in Japan not in terms of quality, but in style. I enjoy both kinds. In restaurants, Japanese sushi highlights the quality and the freshness of the rice and the fish; raw tuna, salmon or other fish are considered the cream of the crop sushi. As a result strong flavors are never added to the sushi, apart from a quick dip in the sushi dipping sauce (similar to soy sauce) mixed with wasabi. Americans, however, prefer not to consume raw fish or much seafood; because of this the sushi in the U.S. often contains cooked fish, tempura-fried seafood, or other raw vegetables. These flavors being more robust and less delicate (and because Americans are suckers for salty-sweet flavor explosions), sweet sauces are drizzled over the rolls, salty fish roe added on top, or potato chip crumbs sprinkled in for texture. It’s a far reach from the simplicity of flavor and form that highlights Japanese cuisine, but it’s good in its own way.

Back to the sushi party: The essentials are the prepared sushi rice, wraps (nori sheets or lettuce leaves), sushi or soy sauce and wasabi (ginger optional), and various bowls of toppings. Here I will give suggestions for a buffet of Japanese sushi fillings that is faithful to what is eaten in Japan while still being accessible to the Western home-cook. I am not including raw cuts of fish in the spread, but don’t worry—the disappointment of your guests at not seeing “real sushi” will quickly be forgotten once they start to eat.

Temaki-zushi buffet

1. Cook sushi rice in a covered pot (a rice cooker is better, of course, if you have one), measuring equal parts rice and water. When the rice is tender drain any excess liquid and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Immediately pour rice vinegar over the sushi and mix well, enough to wet the entire batch but not to leave it soaking. Leave the rice to absorb the vinegar, adding more vinegar as the rice dries out. When the rice has absorbed enough vinegar to stay moist after half and hour, transfer the bowl to the refrigerator and let cool.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the dishes. Set out a plate of nori wrap and/or large lettuce leaves. Toppings can include:

• Canned tuna with chopped onion or spring onion
• Corn and mayonnaise
• Surimi and cream cheese
• Avocado slices
• Raw cucumber, carrot, or bell pepper slices
• Kim chi
• Grilled eggplant or mushroom, sliced
• Omelet or boiled eggs, sliced
• Cooked shrimp

3. Take out the cooled rice just before serving. Serve with sushi sauce or soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger. The sauce should be mixed in individual bowls with a dab of wasabi to taste (start small!). Ginger is eaten between rolls to clean the palate.

4.To roll the sushi, don’t fuss. Grab a half sheet of nori or a lettuce leaf, lay a spoon of rice on top, and add the toppings. Roll into a cone for less mess and more style.

mardi 13 juillet 2010

Spring Rolls (gỏi cuốn)

When it’s too hot to turn on the stove, operate the microwave oven, or summon the energy to walk to the utensil drawer and withdraw a knife and fork, how do we do when we want to make good food?

Answer: prepare a fresh raw vegetable salad, in convenient utensil-less roll form: Vietnamese spring rolls, gỏi cuốn.

These spring rolls are very popular items at summer parties. Don’t get discouraged that the whole batch will be gone in less time than it took you to roll one measly roll. They don’t keep overnight, so they’re better off being eaten than hoarded.

The ingredients in a spring roll, like any salad, can be adjusted to taste. However, a spring roll is not Vietnamese without cilantro and mint inside. Besides this, the classic fillers are lettuce, sliced cucumber, sliced carrot, bean sprouts, green onion, and either shrimp or pork. Shrimp is prettier, and if you buy pre-cooked shrimp, doesn’t require cooking. I don’t use vermicelli noodles in my spring rolls because I find it to be tasteless bulk, as the rice paper is already there.

The best sauce to serve the rolls with is a peanut sauce; alternately a sweet Hoisin sauce with crushed peanuts mixed in or sweet chili sauce can be used.

Spring Rolls
Makes 16-18 rolls

1 pound small shrimp, pre-cooked and peeled
1 head butter lettuce, ribs removed
1 bunch fresh mint leaves
1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves
1 cucumber, thinly sliced into strips
3 carrots, thinly sliced into strips
16-20 garlic chives or Chinese chives
1 package rice paper (banh trang)

1) Fill a medium bowl with warm water and submerge a piece of rice paper into water. Wait one minute for the rice paper to soften, then take it out and spread on a cutting board.
2) Place a lettuce leaf at the lower end of the rice paper. Add mint, cilantro, cucumber and carrot.
3) Roll the rice paper over the filling and tuck it underneath. Add shrimp with the sliced side facing up. Fold the sides inwards and add a chive over the shrimp with 1 inch sticking outside of one side for a decorative effect. Continue rolling while keeping tension on the rice paper for a tight roll. The roll will seal itself.
4) As you are rolling, place a damp paper towel over the finished rolls to prevent them from drying out.
5) Serve with peanut Hoisin dipping sauce.

Peanut Hoisin Dipping Sauce
makes 2 cups

1 cup water
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon whole soybean sauce, crushed
3 tablespoons Hoisin sauce
4-6 tablespoons peanut butter
2-3 teaspoons chili garlic sauce or diced chilies to taste
1 ounce dry roasted peanuts, chopped

1) In a small sauce pan, add water and garlic. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low.
2) Add soy sauce, crushed soybean sauce, Hoisin sauce, 4 tablespoons peanut butter and chili garlic sauce. Stir until peanut butter is dissolved and the sauce thickens. Add additional peanut butter until desired thickness (like mustard) is obtained. Adjust seasonings to taste. Garnish sauce with chopped peanuts.

lundi 5 juillet 2010

Greek Salad

An easy summer salad means a bowl full of fresh, flavorful ingredients—no cooking required. This mixture is my favorite. The tomatoes are sweet, the cucumber crunchy, the olives salty, the red onion bites, and the cheese hold its all together.

Greek Salad

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and extra for garnish
3 tomatoes
¼ red onion
½ cucumber
4 oz (120g) feta cheese
16 kalamata olives

1. Cut the tomatoes into wedges, the red onion into rings. Stripe the cucumber with a peeler and chop into half-moons. Cut the feta into cubes.
2. Place the salad ingredients in a large bowl.
3. Mix the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and oregano in a small bowl, then add the dressing to the salad.
4. Garnish with a little freshly ground black pepper and fresh herbs if on hand.

samedi 3 juillet 2010

Fatté de Damas

Encore un plat délicieux grâce à mon pote Safi. . .

Ce plat s’appelle Fatté de Damas (le verbe fatta en syrien –ou en arabe- veut dire couper avec la main (mais pas les papiers) ; le mot Foutat signifie les miettes du pain ou ce qui tombe pendant qu’on mange une baguette.

Fatté de Damas

Première étape
- 1 kilo de Yaourt turque
- Tout petit peu d’eau (la quantité d’une tasse de café) et on remue bien le yaourt avec de l’eau ajoutée.
- 2 grosses gousses d’ail écrasées ou 4 si petites et on remue l’ensemble
- Assez de sel
- 2 cuillères de Tahina et on remue encore
- Demi-citron, à remuer aussi avec l’ensemble
- Beaucoup de cumin : deux grande cuillères
- Du piment moulu
Ce mélange reste froid en attendant de finir les autres choses.

Deuxième étape
500 grammes de pois chiches cuites, à chauffer dans l’eau jusqu’au bouillonnement. Mettre les pois chiches (sans l’eau) dans un plat. Y ajouter du citron, du cumin et du piment moulu.

Troisième étape :
Couper trois galettes de pain oriental en petits morceaux et les frire dans de l’huile végétale (comme les pommes de terre) jusqu’à ce que les morceaux deviennent craquants. Mettre le pain frit dans le même plat (sur les pois chiches).

Dernière étape
Verser la sauce (du yaourt) sur l’ensemble (les poids-chiches et le pain) et mélanger bien. On ajoute encore du cumin et du piment moulu. Le plat est servi avec des tomates coupées en tranches ou morceaux moyens, des feuilles de menthe fraiche ou autres sortes de légume.