etc

Local produce

Wild Fermentation: Homemade Sauerkraut

If you're a regular reader here, you've seen my husband T. take a culinary turn a few times, most recently with those elegant crepes that we filled with homemade lemon curd and fresh blueberries. Often when T. steps into the culinary spotlight it involves a cool tool he covets — a professional crepe pan, for instance, or in this case an antique cabbage shredder that he has restored.

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Shortly before we left Germany, T. spent a day with his colleague, Lamont (an American), who was famous for his homemade Sauerkraut in a land where Sauerkraut was quite ubiquitous. Not only was the kraut homemade, Lamont shredded the cabbage by hand using an antique shredder he had found in a flea market and restored to working condition (the Krautmeister and his shredder in photo at right). Their kraut-making day started shortly after dawn, as Lamont insisted on getting the freshest available cabbage from a farmers' market near Heidelberg, a 50-mile journey. (The fresher the cabbage, the higher its water content — an important factor in how much natural brine the cabbage will produce.)

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Once they had secured two 30-gallon bags full of cabbage, they returned to Lamont's house for T's apprenticeship. Between the two of them, they shredded, salted and tamped enough cabbage to fill 4 large crocks with salted cabbage (photo, left). A common misperception is that Sauerkraut is made with vinegar; probably because it's so sour. Actually, Sauerkraut is made with only cabbage and non-iodized salt (the iodine in iodized salt interferes with the fermentation process), such as sea salt or kosher salt. After a short time, the cabbage will exude water, which mixes with the salt to create a natural brine that covers the cabbage. The brine creates an environment in which the cabbage can ferment safely.

Lamont generously gifted us with one of those crocks full of Sauerkraut-in-waiting, and coached T. on its maintenance. We patiently watched over our crock, taking care to check the kraut for surface "bloom" — an unsightly but mostly benign bacteria that can grow on the brine surface that should be removed — and keeping the well around the lid filled with clean water to create an air-tight seal. After the requisite 10-week fermentation period, it was quite a treat to eat fresh hand-made and homemade Sauerkraut! T. could not wait to try it again on his own. But just as he was planning to search for his own shredder, we learned we had one month to prepare for a move to Hawaii!

Now, three moves and six years later, we have found ourselves in a part of the U.S. that was settled by German immigrants — an area in which T. might finally find an antique cabbage shredder. For over a year, we scoured antique shops and flea markets in search of a functional shredder. Many of the antique shredders we saw were rendered unusable by paint, glue, or other decorative touches. He finally found one that was merely rusty, as well as a wooden tamper for pressing the cabbage in the crock. After disassembling the whole shredder, removing all the rust, sharpening the blades, and cleaning and finishing the wood with a food-grade oil, he was ready for his first batch of Sauerkraut.

For directions and safety guidelines for making Sauerkraut, he used several sources on the Web. Check out Wild Fermentation, Wedliny Domowe (a Polish culinary how-to site), and the Sauerkraut forum on The Garden Web for detailed information if you are inspired to try this at home.

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T. insisted on doing this the old-fashioned (= hard) way, but you can absolutely
shred the cabbage with a modern mandoline or even a food processor.

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Sea salt was mixed in as each cabbage was shredded
(any iodine-free salt will do).

It took 15 heads of cabbage to fill the crock! He used cabbage grown in
nearby Sharpsburg — locally grown produce will be freshest and
will have the highest water content to make a natural brine.

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The salted cabbage was tamped down in the crock.

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To keep the cabbage weighted so it stayed submerged,T. used bags of brine.
The brine was a precaution; if the bags accidentally broke, the salt water
would not interfere with fermentation.

This crock has a well around the lid that is filled with water to create a tight seal to keep out pathogens.
You have to check the lid every day or two to make sure the water hasn't evaporated.
Sometimes you can hear the crock "burping" when gas escapes from under the lid and through the water!

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After 4 weeks: starting to ferment, but still crisp green — a cabbage/kraut hybrid.
T. was already sampling the kraut as a salad at this point.

T. enjoys Sauerkraut as a side dish, uncooked and ungarnished — which is the best way to gain the full benefit of fermented food. Sauerkraut is high in fiber and Vitamins C and K, and is a good source of lactic acid bacteria which contribute to a healthy digestive tract and immune system. To get the latter benefits, though, you should eat Sauerkraut raw and seek out brands that are unpasteurized. Or make it yourself, of course! But if you plan to cook the Sauerkraut, a pasteurized brand that is naturally fermented and packed in plastic or glass works fine.

Most of this first batch was given away to T's colleagues, who were intrigued with the whole idea of homemade kraut and wanted to taste for themselves. We did enjoy Apfelsauerkraut (recipe below) with turkey keilbasa a couple of times, but I was shocked to learn yesterday that the first crock of Sauerkraut is already history! So this can only mean one thing — a second batch is being planned, this time with other vegetables (carrots? Brussel sprouts? cauliflower?) thrown in as well. Of course, it will be at least a couple of months before another batch will be ready. Oh well, we still have kimchi when we need a fermented cabbage fix!

If you're in an especially adventurous mood, you might want to try this unusual and utterly delicious tomato-based soup laced with orange: Krautsuppe mit Krabben, Sauerkraut Soup with Shrimp. If you enjoy the Korean kimchi soup, Jigae, you might like this German take on a fermented cabbage soup.

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APFELSAUERKRAUT
(APPLE SAUERKRAUT FOR SAUSAGE OR PORK CHOPS)
Serves 4 persons

This recipe has won converts from sworn Sauerkraut-haters — the addition of apples and apple cider mellows the sourness of the kraut without erasing its characteristic flavor. Feel free to substitute apple juice, beer, dry white wine or chicken broth for the hard cider too.

Make this without any meats, to serve as a side dish with ham or salmon, or mix in with egg noodles for a non-meat meal.

4oz bacon or salt pork, diced (optional)
2 TBL light olive oil
1-2 tsp. caraway seeds
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
2-3 large, firm cooking apples, such as Cox-Pippin or Granny Smith
(about 1.5 lbs/750g), cored and sliced into 16-20 pieces
2 lbs/ 1kg fresh sauerkraut
1 cup hard apple cider

2 lbs sausage or wurst, or 4 pork loin chops, browned well (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.

Place oil and bacon, if using, in oven-proof skillet large enough to hold sauerkraut and sausages/pork chops. Over medium high heat, render fat from bacon, if using, about 5 minutes. Remove browned bacon pieces from skillet.

Turn heat down to medium, add caraway seeds and stir until the seeds are fragrant, about 1 minute. Add sliced onions, and stir through, then cook slowly until onions just start to turn translucent, about 3 minutes.

Add sauerkraut and sliced apples, and stir through. Add pre-browned sausage or chops to top of sauerkraut. Pour cider around sauerkraut, and cover skillet with lid. Place in pre-heated oven for 25-40 minutes, or until meat is cooked through (sausage will cook faster than pork chops).

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Apfelsauerkraut with turkey kielbasa and purchased
Kartoffelknoedel (Bavarian-style potato dumpling)







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Steamed Periwinkles with Garlic Stems & White Wine


When we first saw these green garlic stems in the Korean groceries, my first thought was to pickle them but actually I’ve done everything BUT pickle them so far! Once the stems are trimmed and cut to the desired length, they are sauteed in olive oil creating both a fragrant oil and a pre-cooked aromatic that you can quickly add to anything for a flavor boost — eggs and cheese for a hearty morning scramble or omelet; and pasta sauces, stews and soups to replace or supplement other aromatics such as onions and garlic. Garlic stems have a milder but distinctly garlic flavor, and soften to a pleasant bite once cooked.


One end of the stems has a bud which will eventually “blossom” with miniature cloves that make an interesting garnish, and which will be delicious once pickled. (I *will* pickle these soon.)

In this quick recipe for steamed periwinkles in white wine sauce, we used the same broth we would use for steamed clams and simply replaced regular minced garlic cloves with a half bunch of chopped garlic stems The stems are milder than garlic cloves so the copious amount was necessary to bring out the same garlic pungency.

We first tried periwinkles last year, and the ones we got in Hawaii came from Canada. These were more local, but at H-Mart were labelled as “Bai Top Shells.” They require considerably more cleaning than the ones we got in Hawaii if you plan to use them in this dish where the shells are added directly to the cooking broth, and the broth is consumed as part of the meal. It seems from a scan of recipes for bai top on the web, that in Korean dishes, the meat is extracted from the shell and the shells are discarded so they are sold more naturel, as it were.

The one thing I can say about the periwinkles we got this time is that they were VERY fresh. So fresh that after scrubbing them and draining them, I put the shells in the fridge to keep cool while I prepped the broth, and when I went to take them out, I was greeted with this:

I thought to myself: I can freak out, or I can grab my camera... As you can see, I went for the photo-op. (This photo is going out to Rowena, who first mentioned the possibility of snails in the fridge on her blog last month!)

STEAMED PERIWINKLES with GARLIC STEMS & WHITE WINE
For 4-5 persons

2 lbs. periwinkles (aka bai top)
2 TBL olive oil
Half bunch of garlic stems, washed, trimmed and cut into 1” pieces
4 TBL unsalted butter
1/2 tsp sea salt (not necessary if using regular butter)
fresh ground black pepper
1/2 bottle dry white wine (we used a Vinho Verde)
water
½ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

Make a saline soaking liquid by mixing 1/4 cup sea salt with 2 quarts/liters cold water, and stir to dissolve salt. Clean the shells by first soaking in this saline solution for 30 minutes to loosen dirt on the shells. Using a hard bristled brush, such as a nail brush or firm toothbrush, scrub shells free of dirt and place in colander. Rinse all shells under running water. Keep in fridge until needed. (Note: If you don’t plan to cook the shells the same day you buy them, don’t clean them until just before you plan to cook.)

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil and garlic stems over medium high heat until garlic aroma fills the kitchen. Add butter, salt, pepper, and pepper flakes if using, and heat until butter is melted through and bubbling. Add white wine, and bring to boil. Add periwinkles, stir through, and add enough water so that broth comes 3/4 of the way around shells, and cover. Return to boil, stirring occasionally. Cook for 10 minutes.

Serve with a toothpick to extract meat from shell, and lots of fresh bread to sop up the buttery, garlicky broth!




Like periwinkles? Also try Portuguese-style Pork, Clams & Periwinkles. And for another take on periwinkles — adding chorizo and mussels instead, visit Meagan Down Under on her site, Megalomaniac.



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Market Finds


If you’ve visited this site before (first, thanks for coming back), you may know that we LOVE farmers’ markets, orchards, produce stands, dairies, and even all kinds of groceries and markets. Now that local farmers’ markets are back in full swing, we’ve had fun checking out different ones all over the area. Many we can reach by Metrorail or bus. And while we always love fresh produce, it has been especially fun exploring local dairy, including these lovely farm fresh eggs from Maryland producer, Evensong Farms, and available at the Silver Spring Saturday market. The different colored eggs are from different breeds, and the yolks ranged in color from deep orange to deep yellow, depending on what the free ranging chickens were eating.


Another Maryland producer we found at the Saturday Takoma Park farmers’ market was Cherry Glen Goat Cheese Co. that makes this striking goat milk chevre with a layer of vegetable ash. The cheese has a mild barnyard essence which was pleasant, but not very ripe. We would like to try this again and try to ripen it ourselves to give it more character. (My question is, where are the sheep’s milk cheese producers?)


From slightly farther afield was Pennsylvania’s Keswick Creamery (TP Saturday market) from whom we bought a thick and mild full-fat yogurt, sweet ricotta and aged cheddar.



A new salad green for us were these lamb’s quarters (top left), which went into both a salad and one of our all-time favorites, the Greek cornmeal and greens casserole called Plasto (bottom left). The rainbow chard joined in on the medley for the Plasto, but was also the star of a spicy pasta dish with currants (bottom middle). The last veg there are salad turnips, which are eaten whole and added incredible sweetness to a salad which included the turnip greens, lamb’s quarters, and mixed baby greens (bottom right).


Another new find for us are these green garlic stems which we’ve bought at both the TP farmer’s market and Korean Korner supermarket. The green stems can be pickled, but we’ve been cooking with them in everything from sauces, plasto, soups, and pasta. Most recently it replaced garlic when we cooked up a batch of local periwinkles (recipe soon).


Market goers in Northern Virginia and Baltimore may recognize the name, Reid’s Orchard, for their fresh produce and potted and snipped herbs in farmers’ markets in their area, but they may not know that this southern Pennsylvania producer has introduced its first vintage of some truly lovely wines. Sadly, these wines will not be available at the farmers’ markets due to byzantine and archaic interstate alcohol regulations. We stopped by the orchard when we visited Gettysburg — there is a tasting room about 15 miles in the rolling hills west of the national park at Gettysburg. Reid’s Orchards joins several other wineries in the neighborhood that also have tasting rooms, so you can make a nice afternoon of tastings after a morning exploring battlefield history. We’ve tried several Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia wines and have found many of them too sweet for our taste — these 2 blends from Reid were a welcome surprise for their dryness and round fruit. More about them soon.

Just today I discovered the Dutch Country Farmer’s Market in Burtonsville, MD, which is an indoor marketplace for individual producers, including a dairy, several bakeries, beef and pork butchers, poultry butcher, bulk foods and jams, prepared salad deli, hot cooked and BBQ meats, fresh candies, and a small cafe. As its name implies, the foods invoke the Pennsylvania Dutch Country ambience. Brought home unsalted churned butter, a loaf of whole wheat bread, and pot pie noodles. The crockpot is prepping the chicken and broth for our pot pie dinner tonight!

This last photo is just a strange thing we found at one of the Korean markets nearby — it’s a mega loofah bath sponge sold as a whole piece. For less than $2. I couldn’t resist this one because it was just like the ones my mom used to send me from her garden when I was in college — it’s fully dried, but still has some residual seeds in the interior. Mom’s never grew quite this large, though! This will be cut up into about 5 sponges so this should last about a year, though T. suggested keeping it whole and using the small end as handle so you can scrub your own back. When this vegetable is still young and edible (it may be called bottlegourd, luffa or upo), it makes a soul-satisfying soup squash.


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Amerika no Yomogi (American Yomogi)


Last spring I was shooting envy spears at everyone harvesting wild greens and herbs all over the planet. This year I get to join in the hunt since we’ve already identified 2 wild things growing right in our neighborhood. One is something I grew up with and knew well; the other I was introduced to last year while reading about everyone else’s fun in the wilds. First up is a familiar and long-missed favorite: Mugwort. Another time we’ll look at: Spruce Tips.

What we’re still hunting: Wild leeks, aka Ramps, aka Bärlauch. Does anyone have any leads on where we might find some???... Anyone??...



Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris, right side of above illustration) grows to be a tall shrub, and is a member of the chrysanthemum family. You get a hint of that relation from a close look at its leaves, which do look like the edible chrysanthemum leaves known as shingiku (Chrysanthemum coronarium). The mugwort featured in this article is common in Europe and North America, and is closely related to 2 varieties that enjoy much more fame and notoriety — the Japanese mugwort (Artemisia princeps), also known as Yomogi (click for photo); and Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium, left side of above illustration).

Yomogi is widely used in Japan and other Asian countries as an herb to flavor rice cakes, porridges, cookies, and as a vegetable in soups and stir-fries. And in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the fuzz on the underside of the leaves is collected and used in heat treatments along acupuncture points, a process called moxibustion. Wormwood, as hinted in its Latin name, is the key ingredient in the infamous liqueur known as Absinthe. More on these at another time.

The common mugwort is not what the Japanese would recognize as Yomogi — its Japanese cousin has smaller leaves, more lobe-shaped than pointed. But for the purposes of this article I will use the Japanese name because that is what I know it as, and I will use it in the same ways its Asian cousin is used in Japan, namely as an herb for flavoring.


At this time of year, yomogi is quite prolific here, as it is in Europe. In both continents it is most often viewed as a weed — even a noxious weed since it is quite invasive once established. But yomogi also enjoys a long history of medicinal (both to ease digestive ailments and to purge parasites) and ritual (to keep evil spirits away) use. In Germany (where it is known as Beifuss), we found it most often in wooded areas and near river banks; and here (eastern U.S.) the wooded park near our home is nearly overrun by patches of it along most of the footpaths and open fields. While still young, the strong bitter flavor that is most prized in yomogi has not fully developed, and the flavor is still very fresh, and almost minty tasting, with only a hint of the bitterness that will develop with sun and time.

Yomogi and its cousins are immediately recognizable by the silvery, slightly fuzzy undersides of their leaves, and their distinctive aroma when the leaves are bruised. Even when I’m not “harvesting” yomogi per se, I will snap a few stems if I pass a shrub, keeping them in my pocket and gently crushing the leaves for a whiff when I’m starting to feel tired or when I’m on public transit.


Last weekend I took a basket to harvest a small batch of American yomogi from the park. Of course, when harvesting near a footpath or well-travelled path, go as far from the path as you can! Getting away from the path may keep you away from areas visited by pooches making their rounds, but there are other wild animals that don’t necessarily follow the path so you still want to wash your harvest well. I normally wash store-bought produce in a vinegar wash and 2-3 rinses, but for these I did 2 vinegar rinses and 2 fresh water rinses. (BTW, rinses after the vinegar wash are recycled to water the outdoor plants or to flush toilets — conservation tips I learned from living through the California drought in the 1980s.)

Once the yomogi was washed and dried, I made something I’ve been craving a very long time: Okayu. Okayu is simply a rice porridge, but my mother always made it with yomogi, so in my mind okayu must be scented with fresh yomogi leaves. Okayu was something my mom made for us when we weren’t feeling well, or when our stomachs were out of sorts, such as arriving home after a long plane ride (10 hours from the West Coast to Guam via Japan or Hawaii, for instance).

Strangely, we never did find fresh yomogi, either in markets or as a potted herb, while we were in Hawaii. With the large Japanese, Korean and Chinese populations (all which use yomogi in some way), I thought it would be easy to find in the Islands. Nope. So this was the first real okayu I’ve had since we lived in Germany. It was so-o-o good. Especially after being sick for most of March and April (and just getting another diagnosis of yet another infection this week).

Now that I have a ready supply of yomogi, I know there will be a lot of okayu in the near future. But I’m also going to try for the first time to make my own Kusamochi since fresh Japanese pastries are no longer a retail option, and yomogi pasta for the summer. I hope you will join me for those adventures, too!

OKAYU
Serves 4 persons (or 2 greedy people)

3/4 cup medium grain rice
1/4 cup short-grain glutinous rice
7 cups of water (or half broth, half water)
1 slice fresh ginger
3 handfuls cleaned and dried yomogi leaves

Wash rices separately by gently rubbing grains in water until milky, then draining. Rinse repeatedly until water runs clear. Set aside.

Bring water and ginger to boil over high heat in a large 3 qt/L saucepan. Stir in washed rices and bring back to a boil. When boiling, turn heat down to medium high and cook with cover slightly ajar over pot to allow some steam to escape, but keep the mixture at a slow boil. Cook for about 40-45 minutes or until mixture has thickened but is still soupy, stirring occasionally to keep rice from sticking.

Just before adding to porridge, roughly chop yomogi leaves and immediately add them to the pot. (Don’t cut leaves too early or the volatile oils and their glorious aroma will be lost by the time the leaves are added to the porridge.) Stir leaves through, cover and cook another 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes.

Serve in deep soup bowl, with side of Umeboshi, Japanese pickled plum.





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Cod with Mango-Sake Sauce


We’re still catching up with recipes and photos from Hawaiii, so here is one for the current mango season there. This recipe for a mango and sake sauce for fish was created after we were visited by an enterprising tween-ager last spring who was selling ice-cold peeled, ripe pirie mangoes door-to-door for $4.00 per bag!! We bought 2 — I wanted to buy his whole stash but that seemed too greedy. Each bag weighed in at almost 2 lbs. each of pure mango! It’s hard to imagine such decadence now when the closest thing we can find to the silken mango-iness of tree-ripe piries are the champagne mangoes from Mexico at $1.99 per mango! *sob*

The mango was cooked down into a puree with just a touch of water (no sugar) to keep the fruit from sticking to the pan, then they were ready for use in baking and cooking. Sure, there was a mango bread or two, but I wanted to use them in a savory dish too. A jigger or two (probably two) of sake, a knob of butter, a pinch of sea salt and white pepper were added to some of the puree to create this sauce. The cod itself was seasoned with sea salt and a fish curry powder from Singapore, but any curry powder (Jamaican, Japanese, Malaysian, Indonesian, South Asian) with a bit of turmeric to lend a touch of bitterness to balance the sweetness of the mangoes will work.

The fish was then pan-fried and plated, and the mango-sake sauce napped before serving (in truth, this was too generously napped — probably half this amount would make a better presentation but it was very good! ). This was made with Alaskan cod but any flaky white fish would do — halibut, haddock, even tilapia.

Those are not black sesame seeds, but onion seeds, or kalonji, over the mango sauce. Kalonji are a staple of Middle Eastern and South Asian/Indian baking and cooking, and add a nice bit of tang as well as color. On Oahu you will find kalonji at India Market on S. Beretania near UH, and maybe in the bulk spice drawers at Down-to-Earth (??); here in the D.C. area we often see aisles of Indian spices and dry goods in the larger Korean supermarkets, such as H-Mart, but there’s also a market in Hyattsville called Patel Bros. that has quite an extensive assortment of South Asian fresh, dry and frozen goods.

I meant to do this recipe again during the second wave of mango season on Oahu last year so I could measure out the ingredients, but we were caught up in the re-location frenzy at the time. I hope the photo is enough to get you started playing with your ingredients at home.

The fish is plated with watercress mashed potatoes (Flash-cooked Watercress + Mashed Potatoes) and a homemade shiso-flavored rakkyo (pickled scallions).

If you’re somewhere in the world where it’s mango season now, please have one for me!!

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More fun with mangoes.....
Double Mango Wholewheat Quickbread
Double Mango Yeast Bread
Mango-stuffed French Toast



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"Rim of Fire" Paella


Anyone who has lived on the West Coast of the Americas, the eastern shores of Asia and Australia/New Zealand, Indonesia, and Guam will know the term “Rim of Fire” to describe the chain of volcanoes that bubble beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean’s edges. This subterranean activity sometimes finds its way to the surface in places like Kilauea on Hawaii Island, Ubinas in Peru, Mt. St. Helens on the U.S. West Coast, and Pinatubo in the Philippines. Other times its power is more felt than seen, except in its aftermath, as in the frequent earthquakes that trouble all areas of the Pacific.

This dish was designed to “shake up” the palate and imagination with a Pacific take on an Iberian classic, the lovely paella. In our version, carnaroli — an Italian rice variety used for risotto — is simmered with a saffron sofrito spiked with sake, then studded with Manila clams, Hawaiian-style Portuguese sausage,
Kauai shrimp, and edamame for Pacific flair. If we had had abalone from the Big Island, we would have put those in too! Red and yellow pepper strips add color and sweetness, and a squeeze of tangy calamansi at the end brings this dish firmly into the Pacific rim. This was made early last summer when we were still on Oahu and all these wonderful ingredients were still our “local.”

Now the challenge will be to make a new local version with foods from this corner of the world.



“RIM OF FIRE” PAELLA
Serves 4 persons

1/2 of one Hawaiian Portuguese sausage
1 TBL+ 2 TBL + 1 TBL olive oil
1 Cornish game hen, cut into serving pieces
sea salt and ground black pepper
6-8 cups vegetable or chicken broth (amount will depend on type of rice used, carnaroli will need more liquid)
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup seeded, diced tomato (about 1 large tomato)
small handful fresh cilantro sprigs, washed, dried and minced
pinch of saffron, soaked in warm water
1/2 lb. carnaroli or arborio rice
1/2 cup (120 ml) Japanese sake or Okinawan awamori

1 lb. (455g) Manila clams, scrubbed and cleaned
1/2 lb. (225g) sweet Kauai shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 red bell pepper, seeds removed and cut into thin strips
1 cup (150g) shelled edamame (fresh green soy beans)

Calamansi limes, for garnish and seasoning

Cut sausage lengthwise, then crosswise in 1/2 inch pieces to form half-moons. Season game hen pieces well with sea salt and ground black pepper.

Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.

Heat broth in saucepan to boiling, then reduce to simmer and keep at simmer near paella pan. Have a ladle ready nearby too.
Note: It’s important to add hot broth to the rice as you cook, so I usually have more liquid than I anticipate I might need. Adding cold or cool liquid to the rice will cool the rice and the pan and the liquid will not absorb properly into the rice grains.

Heat paella pan, or other shallow wide pan, over medium heat, add 1 TBL olive oil, and gently fry sausage pieces until browned and cooked through, about 3-4 minutes each side. Remove all pieces to paper towel and set aside.

In same pan (without washing), brown all pieces of the game hen, and remove to oiled oven-safe pan. Cover and put in pre-warmed oven.

Still using the same pan, add 2 TBL olive oil and onions. Cook until onion just start to turn transparent, about 4-5 minutes, then add garlic, cilantro and tomatoes. Cook until tomatoes start to turn a darker red color, another 3-4 minutes. Move ingredients to the sides of the pan, and add last TBL oil to the center, then rice. Stir to coat rice evenly in oil and sofrito (the onion-tomato mixture). Increase heat to medium high, and continue to stir and toast the rice for another 3-5 minutes, or until the rice begins to crackle and pop.

Just before the rice threatens to singe, pour the sake over the rice and stir through. You will hear a hiss of steam, which risotto guru Valentina Harris, author of “Risotto! Risotto!” calls il sospiro, the sigh. Allow the rice grains to fully absorb the wine, stirring constantly, before adding a ladle of hot broth. Continue stirring until the liquid is again absorbed, then add another ladle. This method of allowing one ladle of broth to be fully absorbed before the next is added, allows the rice grains to swell slowly and cook properly, and helps to avoid the dreaded “uncooked kernel” that can haunt rushed risotti.

Continue adding broth one ladle at a time, until rice grains start to look shiny and to stick together. Add the saffron and another ladle of broth, then turn heat down to medium, and add pepper strips and edamame to rice, and stir through. Add another ladle of broth if rice has absorbed most of the liquid, then add clams, cooked sausage and game hen pieces, another ladle of broth, and stir, then cover and allow to steam for 5 minutes. Add another one or two ladles of broth (depending on whether you prefer a dry or soupy texture), then shrimp, and cover again for another 5 minutes. Keep covered and remove from heat.

Serve in shallow bowls or plates, garnish with calamansi to keep with the Pacific theme. A New Zealand or Australian sauvignon blanc is the perfect wine for this meal. Enjoy!


More using Kauai’s unique sweet shrimp: Spicy Seafood Stew w/Kauai Shrimp & Hawaii Abalone and Creamy Ewa Sweet Corn Soup with Kauai Shrimp

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Spicy Seafood Stew w/Kauai Shrimp & Hawaii Abalone

November 14, 2008
Another post that has been back-logged... The biggest stumbling block was finding time and the will to process and edit the photos to go with these last two posts.

A look back at our last few nights on Oahu and some of incredible local seafood: Shrimp from Kauai and Abalone from the Big Island.



In the midst of the rush to leave Oahu, there were so-o-o-o many things to do and so many decisions to be made: what to take, what to leave behind, how will the cats fly across country — with us or alone. One thing was a no-brainer: that we were going to do justice to the stock of Hawaii seafood, natural grass-fed beef, and produce we had in the pantry and freezer — we weren’t going to give them away or just cook them for the sake of finishing them off, we were going to savor and enjoy them... No matter what... Even if we had to eat 5 meals a day...

This is easier said than done because Life Happens — meals take time to plan and prepare and often the days were too short and after a day of packing, cleaning, and dealing with bureaucratic details, our energy level was pretty much ZERO. So it wasn’t until we had moved out of our rental house and into a vacation condo in Waikiki, shipped the car, and sent the cats safely on their way to Washington that we had the time and energy to return to meal-planning for some of the more prized treasures in the freezer — succulent, sweet shrimp from Kauai and plump and luxurious abalone from the Big Island.

I have only had fresh abalone once before, almost 20 years earlier — it was the large meaty California abalone that can be found in the cold deep waters north of San Francisco. Those dessert plate-sized shellfish had been harvested by a friend’s family, and then sliced thin and lightly pan-fried with garlic and wine. Sweet, tender but with a chew — absolutely divine. I was also familiar with the abalone-like shellfish that is sold canned in many Asian markets — much more chewy and salty, often cooked in an oyster sauce with mushrooms and other vegetables. The Hawaii-grown abalone were miniature and cute — the largest not much bigger than a half-dollar. They’re sold under wrap on styroform trays, and even when defrosted smelled of the ocean, and appeared to have lost no moisture while frozen. We removed them from the shell and added them to the seafood stew below. After their brief bath in the spicy broth, they came out tasty and tender, with a slight chew reminiscent of chopped littleneck clams.

Oahu has a shrimp farm or two on its North Shore, in and around Kahuku, and we were great fans of sweet Kahuku shrimp, both fresh and cooked from the many “shrimp trucks” that dot Kahuku, Haleiwa, and even downtown Waikiki. But earlier this summer Rowena’s post about the Taste of Hawaii featured large Kauai prawns as one of the entrees, and this sent us on a quest to find Kauai prawns on Oahu. Expecting to find Kauai prawns in the fresh seafood case, we were disappointed in our search until one day Don Quijote supermarket had a special on Kauai shrimp...in the frozen food aisle. Hmmmm... didn’t sound too promising... frozen shrimp — not prawns — in a 2 lb. bag. But we tried it. And loved it. Wow! To call these shrimp “sweet” is an understatement. They are morsels of sea-sweet succulence.

Our first hint that these shrimp were going to be different from other commercial frozen shrimp came when we first opened the bag to use the shrimp to garnish the Ewa sweet corn soup. Most frozen shrimp smell like nothing (if you’re lucky), or they smell fishy and should be thrown out. These shrimp from the Garden Isle smelled of the ocean — fresh, briny and clean. It was already a delight, and the shrimp weren’t even cooked yet! By the time we were safely ensconced in Waikiki, we still had over a pound of shrimp left, as well as the abalone, 2 grass-fed sirloin steaks from the North Shore, and one last bottle of Pommard hand-carried from Bourgogne. We were going to eat well for our last few days on Oahu...

The shrimp was divided into 2 meals. First, garlic-butter shrimp ala Gilroy was part of a meal of appetizers, or pupus, which also included prosciutto-parmesan bread sticks, methi-potato frittata, locally grown cherry tomatoes, extra-sharp Tillamook cheddar, pickled mango from Haleiwa, and purchased futomaki sushi. Washed down with ice-cold California sparkling wine and with the sunset from our 11th story perch, this was a lazy meal to sit back and reflect on all the things that had happened during our 3+ years in Hawaii. The next night the shrimp was part of a spicy seafood stew (recipe below) — paired with a sourdough loaf and our favorite Zinfandel from Folie a Deux winery, it was our last home-cooked meal on Oahu. The sweet shrimp, spicy Portuguese sausage and tender abalone married well together in the fennel and orange broth.

The Kauai shrimp, like their Kahuku cousins, have a very thin shell that is difficult to remove in one piece — in fact, in dishes like garlic shrimp and this stew, we just pinch off the legs and munch through the shell (similar to eating soft-shell crab), leaving only the taill! I think you can only do this with really thin-shelled shrimp — I wouldn’t try eating through the shell of a black tiger shrimp. Even if you don’t like the idea of munching through the shells, I recommend cooking the shrimp in their shells even though this makes for a messy meal — it keeps the shrimp from losing their distinct sea flavor and sweetness. Just keep a moist towel for each diner on hand.

For our last night in paradise, I hung up my apron and we took our cue from
Tasty Island’s Pomai and booked a seaside table at the Ocean House restaurant, Outrigger Hotel-Kalia, for a most memorable sunset dinner featuring pan-seared Kona Kampachi, another locally farmed fish only available in restaurants in Hawaii. It was a delicious meal, and the view of Diamond Head only a couple of miles away in one direction, and the red setting sun in the other made it unforgettable. (Follow the link to Tasty Island for the photos and write-up that made this a must-do for us before we left.) Thanks for the recommendation, Pomai, it made our bittersweet last evening on Oahu much more sweet than bitter...

SPICY SEAFOOD STEW W/ KAUAI SHRIMP & HAWAII ABALONE
Serves 2

We used locally grown shrimp and abalone, and Hawaiian Portuguese sausage in this version to highlight the flavors of the Islands we love — and now miss — so much. But we first discovered this recipe while living in Europe where we used the fish, seafoods and sausages we found there. Use whatever combination of seafoods and spicy sausage are local to you.

3/4 lb. Kauai shrimp, with shell on
(For hints on how to clean and de-vein shrimp with shell on, see
Garlic Shrimp post)
8-12 Big Island miniature abalone, cleaned and removed from their shells
Options: also add 1/2 lb. of flaky fish fillets, such as snapper, salmon, cod or halibut, cut into 2” pieces

4 TBL. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 leek, cleaned and sliced
1 TBL. fennel seed
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground allspicee, or 6 whole seeds
1 tsp. ground cumin
large pinch of saffron diluted in 1/4 cup hot water
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, diced, reserve juice
1 bottle dry white wine, reserve 1/2 cup
1 cup clam juice or fish broth
sea salt
1 tsp. chili/garlic paste (Sriracha)
1 blood orange or other orange, scrubbed well and sliced
2 TBL. thyme
2 sweet Italian sausages, or chouricos, sliced on the diagonal (we used half of one Hawaiian Portuguese sausage)
6 firm waxy potatoes, boiled and sliced (optional)
(We opted out of the potatoes this time.)

In a large Dutch oven, saute onions and leeks in oil over medium heat until onions are translucent, about 10-15 minutes. Add spices and turn heat up to medium-high. Fry together until spices are fragrant. Add saffron water and stir in.

Add tomatoes, stir well, and cook together for 15-20 minutes, or until tomatoes darken in color. Add wine, broth, salt, chili/garlic paste, orange slices, thyme, and reserved tomato juice. Cover reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes while you brown sausages.

In separate skillet, brown sausage pieces, and add to simmering sauce as you remove them from the pan. Deglaze pan with reserved 1/2 cup wine, and add deglazing liquid to sauce. Simmer another 15 minutes. (You can make the sauce up to this point and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Like many sauces, it improves with time. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes before finishing with the seafood or fish.)

Just before serving, re-heat sauce and add shrimp and abalone. Cover and let simmer another 5 minutes, or until shrimp is cooked through. Remove from heat immediately so abalone and shrimp don’t overcook.

If using potatoes, lay warm potatoes in serving dish, and cover with stew. Garnish with minced parsley or cilantro. Serve with lots of crusty bread to soak up the sauce.


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Lychee Sake Pork Stir-fry


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This dish came out of the happy chance of finding fresh local lychee just after we had opened a bottle of lychee-flavored sake from California to sample. I couldn’t resist the temptation to put them together with locally produced pork loin and Chinese flat chives... and the result was unbelievably delicious. The pork is marinated briefly with garlic and rice vinegar to provide some punch to the dish, while the fresh fruit and sake lend their sweetness and a touch of elegance to the whole.


The lychee sake was interesting. It makes a nice after-dinner digestif, but it’s not something we would want to drink with a meal. In this dish, it carried the lychee flavor to the meat during cooking and the overall effect was really quite charming. We found this sake at Don Quijote on Oahu, and would buy it again if we ever come across it in future.

Lychee have a very mild but distinctive flavor. Although canned lychee are sweet and retain their fruit flavor, fresh lychee have a subtle but intense flavor that hits your palate before the more familiar regular lychee flavor settles in. If you can find fresh lychee, it’s worth the minimal effort to peel and de-seed them! In a pinch, though, canned lychee can be used too.

Although it’s not local there, Germany was the place I first tried fresh lychee so I know it’s available all around the Continent. So this is going out to Dhanggit at Dhanggit’s Kitchen for her little girl’s first birthday event, Perfect Party Dishes. This recipe easily doubles or triples if you’re making this for a crowd, but do each batch separately so the stir-fry doesn’t “steam” — which is the rookie mistake I made this time around. You can also use regular sake, but you might want to add a bit of sugar, as the lychee sake has the mild sweetness of the fruit.

Addendum: Speaking of celebrations, just after I hit “Publish” we received word that a good friend of ours just made full colonel in the Air Force! As he and his wife are part-owners of a pork ranch (?... farm?) in Iowa, and they and their 2 boys are gourmands all, we have to include them in this dedication, too. Congratulations, Colonel designate Lindsey! We hope we’ll be sharing meals like this with you all again soon...

LYCHEE SAKE PORK STIR-FRY
serves 4
Marinade for pork:
1 lb. pork loin, cut into 1” slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. rice vinegar
sea salt
ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients, and set aside while you peel and seed lychees, or for at least 30 minutes.

2 lbs. fresh lychee (or 2 cans lychee)

Peel and de-seed lychee, or drain cans well.

To finish:
2 TBL. peanut oil
small handful of Chinese flat chives, garlic chives or ramps (Baerlauch)
chili pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
1/2 cup lychee sake (or regular sake + 1/2 tsp. sugar)
dash of soy sauce

Heat wok or large skillet over high heat to just below smoke point. Add oil, swirl, and immediately chives until their color darkens to bright green, about 30 seconds. Add chili flakes, if using, and pork and cook until pork browns.

Move pork from center of pan, and add peeled lychee and sake. Fry together to warm fruit through and bring alcohol to a boil, about 1 minute. Add a splash of soy sauce, stir through and turn off heat. Taste and correct seasoning.

We had this with steamed long-grain glutinous rice (malagkit), but it would also compliment the flavor of jasmine rice as well.

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Creamy Ewa Sweet Corn Soup with Kauai Shrimp


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When you hear the words “fresh corn,” do you picture flat miles and miles of dark green stands of cornstalks in Iowa or Nebraska? I know we did, before we came to Hawaii. Now when someone mentions fresh corn, my mind immediately jumps to Ewa sweet corn, grown right down the road in the fertile Ewa Plains.

Corn in Hawaii? I know, this was a complete surprise to us too. But your first taste of these tender sweet kernels will make you a believer too. And yes, the corn is grown by the same folks at Aloun Farms who also grow those wonderful sweet onions and melons we’ve looked at earlier. If you can believe it, there is a second corn grower on this small island — in Kahuku, on Oahu’s North Shore (of surfing fame). Kahuku corn are also tender and sweet and, most importantly for Oahu, local fresh!

When produce is this sweet and fresh, we don’t usually mess with it too much — steam it or grill it, and eat it. They don’t even need butter or salt. The key with sweet corn is that it must be cooked or frozen as soon as you get it home. A corn grower in California once told me that the sugars in corn begin to convert to starch as soon as they are picked from the stalk. Sugar = tender and sweet; Starch = chewy and kind of bland.

At home, remove the husks and silk, then soak the corn cobs in a vinegar-water solution (2 TBL white vinegar for every 1 liter/quart of water), and rinse. Actually, for grilling you may want to keep some of the husks intact to use as protection from the flames (instead of wrapping in aluminum foil) or as a handle to pick up the corn. Just peel back the outer layers of the jusk (like peeling a banana) and leave them attached at the stem end. Remove the interior husks and the silks, then wash and rinse corn in their husks. Pull husks back over the corn (you can season the corn before re-husking), and they’re ready for the grill!


An alternative method, popular in Japan and here in the Islands, is to grill the corn directly over the flame, seasoning with salt, pepper and a brush of soy sauce in the last minute of grilling. Delicious! You get sweet smoke with that hint of salty shoyu. This is a favorite festival food, but easy to recreate at home, too!

We are fortunate to have more than one season for fresh corn on Oahu, and one of those seasons is going on now. With our fourth or fifth bag of corn this season, I finally decided to make something other than grilled or steamed corn. This is a thick and creamy soup that has no cream or milk — I really wanted the sweet flavor of the corn to be the star here. Its co-star is an equally sweet shrimp from a Neighbor Island — their flavors complemented each other perfectly.

Fellow blogger Pomai at Tasty Island commented on an earlier post that the use of place names (e.g., Ewa cantaloupe) not only promotes the freshness of the produce, but also increases the cachet of the final recipe to either impress one’s guests or (if you’re in the business) charge a fortune! He’s absolutely right, of course. Wouldn’t you pay $30 for that Linguine with Ewa Cantaloupe Sauce in a Waikiki hotel?!

So what did we do with the corn? Here I present you with Creamy Ewa Sweet Corn Soup with Kauai Shrimp (more on the shrimp in a later post). That should fetch at least $20 as a first course, don’t you think? The sea salad adds texture and another ocean element to the soup — we liked it a lot. The only thing I would say is next time I would cut the greens into smaller spoon-size pieces before garnishing.

Don’t miss any vegetable or fruit season in the Islands — download a month-by-moth seasonal availability chart from the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, one of the sponsors of the Buy Local campaign.

CREAMY EWA SWEET CORN SOUP WITH KAUAI SHRIMP
Serves 4 as a first course

6 ears Ewa (or Kahuku) sweet corn, washed as outlined above, some husk kept intact


Peel husk back from cleaned corn to use as a handle when cutting kernels from cob. Place top of corn ear into a deep wide bowl to catch the kernels. Using a sharp knife, cut down and away from you, into the bowl. Turn ear and continue cutting until all kernels are cut from cob. Remove husks and place in large dutch oven. Repeat with all cobs. Reserve kernels (you should have 5-6 cups kernels).

Cover cobs with water, and bring to a boil. Boil for 20 minutes, and allow to cool completely.

(Optional step: I was taught to extract as much flavor from my ingedients as possible, but some people will omit this step.) When cobs are cool enough to handle, remove from water. Place one cob end in water and using the BLUNT end of a knife, press down along the length of the cob into the water to release the last bits of corn. Repeat over the whole cob, and repeat for each cob. Pour “broth” into a measuring cup, and add water to measure 8 cups of liquid. Reserve corn broth/water.

To finish soup:
2 TBL. olive oil or butter (use butter if corn is frozen or starchy)
1 small onion, minced
1/2 tsp. dried chervil
1/4 cup mirin or sake
sea salt, to taste
ground white pepper, to taste
1 lb. Kauai (or Kahuku) sweet shrimp, peeled and chopped (optional - reserve 1 tail per serving for garnish)
sea salad (chopped) or marinated sea asparagus for garnish

Melt butter in dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 6-7 minutes. Add corn kernels and stir to coat with butter. Cover and cook for another 5-6 minutes. Add chervil, mirin, salt and white pepper, and stir through. Cook together 10 minutes. Remove 1/4 to 1/3 of the kernels (depending on how chunky you want the final soup to be — or leave them all in if you want a smooth soup).

Add corn broth/water, and increase heat to high. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes (add reserved shrimp tails to soup in the last 5 minutes, if using, and remove to separate plate to cool before blending soup). Taste and correct seasoning before pureeing.

Use an immersion blender to puree soup. If you have to use a countertop blender, first cool the soup, then puree, and re-heat. HOT FOODS in a covered blender can “explode” from accumulated steam and heat. I don’t recommend using a covered blender for any hot foods or drink.

Return reserved kernels to soup and return to boil. Add chopped shrimp, lower heat to simmer, and cook for 2-3 minues, or until all shrimp turn pink and firm. Ladle into serving bowls, garnish with purchased sea salad and reserved shrimp tails.



Other Island Fresh produce on this site: Melons, Watercress, Mustard Cabbage, Warabi, Daikon, Eggplant, Beef and Choi Sum

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5-A-Day: Choi Sum


(Click on the logo for another choi sum recipe)



It’s no secret that we’re big fans of all the local greens around here — watercress, Chinese mustard cabbage (gai choy), and fiddleheads (warabi) have been touched on earlier. Two other versatile and highly nutritious locally grown vegetables are choi sum (Brassica parachinensis) and Chinese broccoli, or gai lan (Brassica oleracea), both also members of the cabbage family.

At the markets these two are sometimes confused for the other — shoppers looking for Chinese broccoli will pick up choi sum, and vice versa. Both vegetables have long stems with large lobe-shaped leaves and flowers at the end. The trick to telling them apart is that Chinese broccoli has thick, waxy-looking stems and leaves, and white flowers (right); while choi sum stems and leaves look more tender, and it has dark yellow flowers (left). When the flowering tip of Chinese broccoli is tightly closed, it can also be confused with its Continental cousin, broccoli rabe or
rapini — but broccoli rabe has serrated leaf edges (photo on Wikipedia).

Chinese broccoli stems and flowers are similar in flavor to western broccoli; but it has the added nutritional value of having edible leaves as well. Chinese broccoli requires some peeling and sorting (stems from leaves) after washing, and so requires some extra prep work before cooking. We’ll take a closer look at it soon.

For now, let’s just focus on choi sum. Every part of choi sum is edible, and the stems are relatively soft and fast-cooking so whether you separate the stems from the leaves or leave it whole will depend on what you want to do with the vegetable. One of the easiest and most versatile ways to prepare choi sum is to simply steam the entire bunch. Once steamed, the vegetable can be kept in the fridge for 3-4 days until needed. It can be served cold with a
sesame or other dressing, or re-heated with pan sauce such as the Spicy Garlic Sauce below.

We also like to use choi sum greens in fried noodle dishes, including Japanese yakisoba and Korean chap chae. In this case, separate the leaves from the stems/flowers. Now you can julienne the leaves for the noodles and steam the stems whole for a separate vegetable dish. We recently made chap chae using choi sum leaves already steamed in a bunch — the cooked leaves were simply separated, then added after the meat and other vegetables were cooked too.

Choi sum is a very mild-tasting green when cooked (similar to spinach), and easily absorbs dressings, sauces and aromatics around it. It has none of the bitterness that watercress, mustard cabbage or other similar greens have, so it’s a good choice for someone who might be exploring Asian greens for the first time. It is also easy to clean and prep, and cooks fast which also make it a great candidate as a “gateway vegetable.”

As with any vegetable, organic or not, a good bath in a vinegar-water solution (2 TBL. vinegar for every 1 quart/liter water) and several rinses with cool water is a good way to start. Trim any discolored or questionable parts, then lay in a prepared steamer once the steam is at its peak (careful not to burn yourself). Cover and allow to steam for about 4-5 minutes, then immediately remove from steamer onto a large plate to cool — spread stems into a single layer on the plate. It should be a dark vibrant green, and the stems almost translucent. Once the greens are cool enough to handle, bring into a bunch and gently squeeze out excess moisture — you don’t want to wring it dry, just keep it from being dripping wet. These photos show the cooked vegetable after cooling, but before (left) and after (right) squeezing.

Now you’re ready to have your way with them! Cut into chopstick-friendly pieces, they can grace the top of your saimin/ramen soup; drizzled with sesame or citrus dressing it’s a quick and delicious side dish to any meal; chopped up and scrambled with eggs or quiche it’s a nice change from spinach; or top it off with this spicy garlic-rich sauce if you really want to kick it up a notch!

The folks at the “Island Fresh” campaign also have a soup recipe using fresh choi sum, just click on their logo at the top to check it out.

SPICY GARLIC SAUCE FOR GREENS
For one pound of choi sum, watercress, or warabi (or any hearty green)

4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 TBL. olive oil
1 tsp. raw sugar
1-3 tsp. sriracha chili sauce
1-1/2 TBL. fermented soy beans (dao jiao), mashed with a fork
1 TBL. soy sauce
2 TBL. Thai-style fish sauce (or patis, less if using a Vietnamese brand)
2 TBL. rice, coconut or apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 TBL. cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water
ground black pepper

1 lb. of cooked choi sum or other green

In a wok or large skillet, cook garlic in oil over medium heat until garlic is fragrant. Sprinkle with sugar and mix through. Add sriracha, mashed soy beans, soy sauce, fish sauce, vinegar, and water, and mix well to combine. Increase heat to medium high and allow mixture to come to a boil. Turn heat back down to medium, add cooked greens, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Make a hole in the center of wok/pan, and add dissolved cornstarch to center. Cook until sauce thickens, and coat greens with sauce.

Remove greens to serving plate, and pour sauce over. We had this as a side dish with the
Kasu-marinated Butterfish last month.

Other Island Fresh produce on this site:
Melons, Watercress, Mustard Cabbage, Warabi, Daikon, Eggplant, Corn, and Beef.

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Island Fresh: Melons


(click on logo to learn more about the Buy Local campaign on the CTAHR site)


One of the things we’ve always been passionate about is eating local produce as much as possible. Yes, we’re tempted away sometimes by beautiful Brussel sprouts or white asparagus that have travelled from farther than the Neighbor Islands, and some staples like our beloved rice and even russet potatoes are just not grown around here.

But living in Hawaii you almost have to work NOT to eat local produce daily. A wide array of gorgeous locally grown produce is available seasonally all year round — from asparagus to zucchini, and just about everything in between.

The “Island Fresh: Buy Fresh, Buy Local” campaign is in its third year now. Sponsored jointly by the Hawaii Farm Bureau, the state’s Department of Agriculture, and the UH-College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), the promotion of “Island Fresh” has enjoyed new vigor in the last few months, especially with the wave of food scares this year in the U.S. Most recently, it’s E. coli bacteria causing food poisonings; the primary suspect, tomatoes. Hawaii is one of the few states that has not reported cases in this latest scare.

Download a poster from CTAHR showing
fruit and vegetable seasonal availability in Hawaii throughout the year, and never miss a season!

Summer time is melon time, and there are few things more refreshing than a chilled slice of melon in the midst of summer heat. We’re fortunate to have one of the best producers of sweet, true-tasting melons just down the road between Ewa and Kapolei. Aloun Farms grows these honeydew, cantaloupe and miniature Thai watermelons, as well as a wealth of other produce, including the Ewa sweet onions we used in the
Four Allii Tart earlier. We’ve found melons from Aloun at almost all the supermarkets, as well as farmers’ markets, festivals, and the fresh produce stand outside the Farm on Farrington Highway on the way to Kapolei. We especially love the tiny Thai watermelons, which are slightly larger than a cantaloupe, with few seeds, and a deep watermelon flavor. It’s also the perfect size for our two-person household.


We look for melons that are heavy for their size, and for honeydew and cantaloupe that are fragrant at the stem end. If you aren’t going to serve them right away, we’ve found it helpful in Hawaii to wrap the fruit in newspaper to keep the inevitable bugs away. When ready to use, wash the melons well before slicing in a solution of 2 tablespoons of vinegar for every 1 quart/liter of cool water. Although you may not eat the melon rind, it’s important to wash the outside because bacteria and other cooties on the outside rind can be transported into the flesh by your own knife action while slicing the melon.

And if you need any more incentive to eat melons, especially watermelon — did you catch the news making headlines last week that watermelon “is richer than experts believed in an amino acid called citrulline, which relaxes and dilates blood vessels much like Viagra(see full article on WebMD). Although scientists are still not entirely sure just how much watermelon a person would have to consume to experience Viagra-like effects, they agree that it is still a nutrient-rich, low-calorie snack full of potassium, lycopene and carotene. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views these 3 melons as cool and sweet in nature, meaning they clear heat from the body and have properties that tonify the kidneys with their high water content.

There are few better ways to eat melons than simply peeled and cooled, although many cultures in tropical climates also dip or sprinkle salt and hot sauce on fruits, including melons, pineapples, mangoes, and papayas. Growing up, I often opted for the salt and hot sauce, but more often now it’s just the pure fruit.

However, a couple of weeks ago we did try this novel Pasta with Cantaloupe Sauce we saw on Rowena’s site. A sweet pasta sauce? — sounds pretty wild, doesn’t it? You can’t believe how incredible the combination is until you taste it for yourself — sweet cantaloupe with savory ingredients like parmesan, grape tomatoes (from Oahu’s North Shore in Kahuku), cream and butter!

Rowena’s version highlights the musky flavors of the Tuscan melons she finds in the Italian Alps, but we can testify that Ewa cantaloupes shine in this unique treatment as well. In fact, it’s on the menu again this week! The key to this recipe is the freshness and natural sweetness of the melon, so use whatever is local in your region. In fact, when I went shopping with this cantaloupe sauce in mind, the market was carrying muskmelons similar to the Tuscan melons, but these were not local. The far-travelled muskmelons had no fragrance at all, and experience hard-learned (and at great expense) taught that this would probably taste bland and watery despite their price tag more than double the local melons.

The cantaloupe sauce comes out this gorgeous deep orange hue, with the most gratifying juxtaposition of mint and umami-rich fresh-grated parmesan. We halved the original recipe to serve this as a first course (rather than a whole meal), followed by a piquant piccata-style pork. It was the perfect point and counter-point, especially with a crisp California pinot gris. We recommend this to everyone during this summer melon season.

Get the recipe at
Rubber Slippers in Italy then go get you a melon!

For more recipes using both local and other produce, see
5-A-Day, and Mangoes.


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Double Mango Wholewheat Quickbread

July 7, 2008: It’s been a hectic last couple of weeks. Sorry, I thought this actually got posted last week...



Mango season is in full swing in the Islands! We were gifted recently with a bag of home-picked beauties, and after having our fill of mango au naturel, the rest were peeled and put to good use. First up was a whole wheat mango bread using both fresh and dried mangoes. The fresh Hayden mangoes provide yummy mango deliciousness and moisture, while the dried mangoes add extra mango tanginess and texture.

DOUBLE MANGO WHOLE WHEAT QUICKBREAD
Enough for 2 loaves: 8-1/2 in. x 4-1/2 in. each (or 18 muffins or 1 bundt cake)

2-1/2 cups (325g) whole wheat flour
2 tsp bkg soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, room temp.
2 cups (350g) raw brown sugar
4 large mangoes, peeled and chopped (about half-pound or 225g)
4 large eggs
1 package (100g) dried mango, chopped
1 cup chopped nuts (115g) (optional)


Preheat oven 350F/180C. Grease and flour loaf pans.

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In large bowl, beat butter and sugar together until well combined. Beat in mango pulp, then eggs until completely mixed. Mixture may look curdled — don’t worry, that’s normal.

Stir in dried mango and nuts (if using). Lastly, add dry ingredients and stir just until blended — don’t overmix.

Immediately spread in prepared pans and bake 55-60 minutes, or until thin wooden skewer comes clean.
(For muffins, bake 22-25 minutes; Bundt pan, 60-70 minutes).

Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out to wire rack to cool completely.


See also:
Double Mango Yeast Bread
Mango-stuffed French Toast

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Four Allii Tart: An Onion Pie Fit for a King


Washington has its Walla-Walla, and Georgia has the Vidalia, but did you know that Hawaii also has its own sweet onion — the Ewa Sweet. More petite than its Mainland cousins, the Ewa (EH-vah) Sweet can be used in any way that you would use a Vidalia or Walla-Walla. Low-acid and natural sweetness make it an ideal salad and pickling onion. In season now until June, this sweet treat should be savored during its short season.

One of our rare favorite treats is a caramelized onion and chevre tart. The contrast between the sweetness in the long-cooked onions and the tangy goat cheese is wonderful, especially when chased with a crisp sauvignon blanc. We have this treat so rarely because cooked in the traditional way, the onions take up to 3 hours to fully caramelize. I wondered if we could achieve a similar sweetness with the sweet onions in a shorter cooking time. I wouldn't want to actually caramelize sweet onions because I'm afraid their innate sweetness would become cloying and unpalatable except in very small doses (as in a jam). We wanted to cook them just enough to heighten their flavor. Local leeks, garlic chives and flat chives were added to lend some complexity. The dough for the pastry shell is a classic German
Mürbteig — this water-less dough is easy to make and extremely forgiving, and bakes up to a crisp shell that can support a heavy filing like this one.

In the end, I'd say this tart was a winner. I especially liked the addition of the leeks. The flavor of the garlic chives was not discernible, but the flat chives lent some pleasing astringency to the mix. I think T would still prefer the caramelized version since he loves the sweet & burnt effect on any vegetable, but I prefer the flavors in this combination. Too bad the sweet onion season is so short!

The name of this tart is a play on the Hawaiian word for the ruling class, Ali'i (with one 'L'). Onions, leeks and chives all belong to the plant genus Allium, Latin
plural Allii. In future we'll make the classic caramelized version and the Pfälzer Zwiebelkuchen, a custard leek tart, for comparison and contrast for Alliophiles everywhere.

THE 4 ALLII TART
(For a 12-inch tart tin)
For the Shell:
1-1/4 cup (125g) regular flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
5-1/2 TBL. (70g) unsalted butter, cut into small dice then chilled
1 extra-large (64g) egg, beaten

Sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Add butter pieces and blend well using your fingers or a pastry blender (or if you're a glutton for punishment, two knives). If you live in a particularly warm or humid climate, you may want to return the dough to refrigerator for 10-15 minutes after this workout. To continue, add egg and knead well to moisten all the dough until you have a smooth pastry. Cover with wax paper or plastic wrap, and let dough rest for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 425F/215-220C)
Roll out dough to a 14-inch circle (for a 12-inch tin, or at least 2 inches larger than the diameter of your tin). Fit dough into tin, gently pressing sides and bottom to fit. Trim excess dough by rolling pin over the edges of the tin. Prick bottom with fork, cover with parchment or doubled-wax paper and fill with a single layer of rice, beans or pie weights. Bake for 8-10 minutes, then remove paper and weights, and bake an additional 2-3 minutes, or until pale tan in color. Remove tart tin to rack to cool.

4 Ewa Sweet onions (about 1 lb./225g), or equivalent weight of a Mainland variety
2 large leeks (about 1lb./225g)
small handful of flat chives, about 40 stems
20 garlic chives
1/4 cup olive oil
sea salt
1 tsp. caraway seeds (optional)

Prepare a solution of 1/4 cup vinegar in a half-gallon of clean water in a non-reactive container You are going to use this to wash all the onions/chives. (
Why use vinegar to clean vegetables? Read more in the preserving lemons post)

First, wash both chives in this solution and rinse them with cool running water. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Save flowering heads of the garlic chives as a garnish. (I saved them but forgot to put them in the picture!)

Rinse whole leeks in clean water to remove surface dirt, then wash them through the vinegar-water. Pat dry and slice cross-wise, at a slight diagonal, through the white and light green parts. Fill a separate container with another hlaf-gallon of clean water, and place the sliced leeks in the bowl. Gently swish through and then leave for a 5-10 minutes. Lift the leeks out of the water into a colander to drain. DO NOT dump out the water and leeks into the colander! You will put back all the loose grit and dirt that has settled to the bottom of the bowl! (Save the dark green parts of the leeks in the freezer for your next soup stock.)

Last, wash the onions in the vinegar-water. (Why wash onions if you're going to peel them anyway? Consider where they've been in their long journey to your kitchen. Putting an unwashed onion — or any vegetable or fruit — on your cutting board is contaminating your hands and board before you even start.) Pat dry and thinly slice.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add sweet onions and leeks, stir to coat with oil, then cover and reduce heat to medium low. Cook for 35-40 minutes, or until onions have become translucent (see photo). Add both chives, sea salt and caraway seeds, if using, and continue cooking for 10 minutes (when adding salt, consider that the goat cheese contains a fair amount of salt and adjust your salt here). Using a slotted spoon, remove onions from pan, leaving all juices behind. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before assembling tart.


To assemble:
1 log (60g) chevre, sliced into 8 pieces
ground black pepper

Pre-heat oven to 400F/200C.

Place bed of drained onions on pre-baked tart shell. Season well with pepper and dot with goat cheese. Bake tart for 15 minutes, or just until onions and cheese start to take on color.

Garnish with reserved chive flowers and fresh pepper. Serve slightly warm or cold. Serves 8 as first course, or 3-4 as a meal along with a crisp green salad and baguette.

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Crispy Nori-Wrapped Walu & Shrimp with Papaya Coulis


The three times we've gone out to dinner for our anniversary here in Hawaii have all been disappointments. So this year I decided to make something at home instead. Armed with a new cookbook from local chef Elmer Guzman (recommended by Laurie in Alaska!), I borrowed ideas from 2-3 different dishes to create this: a nori-wrapped walu and shrimp lumpia and a citrusy papaya coulis.

Walu is sold here as "Hawaiian butterfish" but is properly known as Escolar — a very white, flaky and oily fish that is actually banned in Japan and Italy because it can cause intestinal upset if not prepared properly (grill or pan-fry to release the oils that cause upset) or if consumed in too great a quantity (no more than 6 oz. per person). But I'm not scared! I love the unusual firm but most texture and mid flavor, and especially enjoyed this preparation. However, any firm flaky fish, such as tilapia, cod, halibut, snapper or even catfish would do well as a substitute here.

I love the flavor of nori in this, and I think it makes for a nice presentation, but if it would dissuade you from trying this, then feel free to leave it out. For the coulis, I paired the papaya with lime juice — a winning local flavor combination — and added a splash of wine vinegar for acidity to cut through the oiliness of both the walu itself, and the deep-fired shell. If you can find nigella, also called onion seeds, at a health food store (in the bulk spice section) or an Indian grocer, the peppery black seeds make a wonderful counterpoint to the flavors in the coulis and fish; otherwise, black sesame seeds or even crushed papaya seeds can be used for presentation.

It was a great marriage of contrasts and balance — crispy yet meltingly soft fish, and sweet but tart fruit sauce.
Kind of like a couple I know. . .

CRISPY NORI-WRAPPED WALU & SHRIMP W/PAPAYA COULIS
(inspired by The Shoreline Chef, by Elmer Guzman)
For the Papaya Coulis:
1 ripe papaya, peeled, halved and seeded
sea salt
1/2 tsp. raw sugar
2 tsp. white wine vinegar, or 3 tsp. rice wine vinegar
2 tsp. fresh lime juice

Place all ingredients except lime juice in a small saucepan. Using a hand or stick blender, puree papaya until smooth. Cook over medium heat until it just starts to bubble, about 10 minutes. Then reduce heat to low and simmer an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add lime juice. Taste and correct seasoning — you shouldn't "taste" vinegar or salt at all, only the papaya and lime.

For the Shrimp Filling:
6 oz. shrimp, peeled and coarsely diced
1 large piece of dried Chinese black fungus (tree ear, or mok yee), rehydrated and cut in slivers
sea salt
ground white pepper
2 tsp. sake or Chinese rice wine
1 stalk of Chinese flowering chives, or flat garlic chives
1/2 tsp. corn starch

Combine all ingredients, and leave to marinate at least 20 minutes, but no longer than 2 hours in fridge.

3-4oz. of walu, tilapia, cod, halibut or other firm flaky fish, filet cut into 4 equal pieces
(This step is only necessary if you are using Walu. For other types of fish, I would skip this.) Pan-fry each filet piece in a lightly oiled skillet over medium-high heat. Brown all sides. Lay on paper towels to cool completely.

To assemble:
4 sheets of lumpia or egg-roll wrappers (covered with a lightly dampened cloth while working)
2 sheets of nori for sushi, each cut in half
water, to seal rolls

To Finish:
Nigella, or onion seeds
Flowering chives

Preheat oil in wok or other deep-fryer to 375F.
Lay lumpia wrapper on clean dry surface. Place nori in center of wrapper (you may have to trim nori so it doesn't cover the top end of the wrapper, or you won't be able to seal it).
Place fish on nori near the bottom edge, and a few spoonfuls of shrimp on fish (see photo at left).
Bring bottom end to cover fish/shrimp, then fold sides to center around filling (middle photo).
Keeping gentle pressure on the filling as you roll (to keep it tight), roll to the top. Wet top edge of wrapper with water (photo at right), before last roll to seal.
Repeat 3 more times.

Fry 2 at time so they don't crowd the wok. Cook for about 5 minutes total, turning lumpia over after 3 minutes. Remove to paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining lumpia. If using flowering chives, make certain they are completely dry (or it will splatter and you will burn yourself), and hold one end of chives and briefly dip flowering end into hot oil. Drain.

To serve, slice each roll in half on a sharp diagonal. I originally wanted to serve this on a bed of chewy soba noodles, but in the end I was really craving rice so that's what we had this time. Buckwheat soba noodles would also go well with both the fish and the coulis. Place fish on and around rice or noodles, drizzle coulis around edge of plate and sprinkle with nigella. Garnish with chives.




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5-A-Day: Tian of Roasted Potatoes & Chinese Mustard Greens


With yesterday's meal of Portuguese-influenced pork, clam and periwinkle stew, we wanted to serve the traditional accompaniment of roasted or pan-fried sliced potatoes, but we also wanted a vegetable with some bitterness to punctuate the rich and spicy broth in the stew. Rather than make 2 side dishes, I opted to ease my workload and make only one dish.

One of our favorite vegetables is a simple oven-braised endive, wherein Belgian endive or Italian radicchio are cooked to melting tenderness while retaining their characteristic bite. I gambled that by layering bitter Chinese mustard cabbage under potato slices in the manner of a tian, I could get a bed of tender braised greens and crispy potatoes on top. Eureka! It worked.

A tian, like the cataplana in
yesterday's post, is the name of both a type of dish and the vessel in which it is traditionally cooked. Here, the original cookware is a bowl-shaped earthenware vessel, often unglazed, although in the hypermarches in France we saw oval or rectangular heavy ceramic dishes with 5-inch sides also sold as "tians." Tian recipes feature layered vegetables, sometimes combined with cheeses and/or grains, and often topped with breadcrumbs. In this version, it was all about the veggies with only a little broth, olive oil, garlic and sea salt for enhancement. I would gladly have substituted endive or radicchio for the mustard cabbage — as always, use what's local and in season in your area.

Although the seafood and pork stew is a definite no-no for anyone coping with gout, I think this vegetarian dish (especially when prepared with vegetable broth) would be suitable for a gout-management diet and so will be included in the
GDC.

TIAN OF ROAST POTATOES & CHINESE MUSTARD GREENS
(serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as an entree)

2 medium potatoes, scrubbed and peeled

Slice potatoes cross-wise into thin slices. Toss with olive oil to prevent browning. Then sprinkle with sea salt and ground black or white pepper.
Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.

Olive oil
1 large head of Chinese mustard greens, washed well
(instructions)
(or 2 lbs. of any bitter green: radicchio, endive, dandelions, etc.)
4-6 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
Sea salt, to taste
Gound black pepper, or white pepper

After washing greens well, separate thick stems from leaves. Slice stems in julienne. Cut leaves lengthwise, then finely shred
— you should have 8-10 cups of leaves. Place stems, then leaves in large (10-12 cup) oven-safe casserole. Add garlic, broth, 2 TBL. of olive oil and seasoning to taste. Layer potatoes over greens in overlapping rings. You may have to press to fit the potatoes atop the greens; but as they cook, the greens will wilt. (Alternatively, place the leaves in a large colander and pour boiling water over until the greens are just wilted, then layer over stems and proceed as above.)

Place in pre-heated oven and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. If potatoes start to brown too quickly, lightly cover with foil (do not seal or potatoes will steam and not stay crisp).

Although this dish was devised to accompany the
seafood stew, its flavors will also accentuate any rich stew — meat or vegetarian, as well as roasted chicken, game fowl, or pork.

More about Chinese mustard greens, or gai choy


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Curry-Glazed Cod with Wasabi-Sesame Soba Salad


Here's a quick dinner put together with ingredients on hand and very little brain work, because there wasn't much left at that point. I'm trying as much as possible to reduce our pantry stocks and not buy ingredients for a any one particular recipe. So with a couple of filets of Alaskan cod at the ready, I opted to serve the fish with a cool salad of buckwheat soba noodles tossed with a prepared sea grass salad that is marketed as "Sea Salad" here in Hawaii. Chewy buckwheat soba noodles and the sesame-laced sea salad were a nice foil for the spices in the tender flaky fish. We liked this salad so much, I will try this again with miso butterfish.

It's been awhile since we've had a gout-friendly recipe for the
GDC, but I think this recipe might fit the bill. Buckwheat is a grain high in protein and gluten-free, and sea grasses of all kinds and lemon juice are said to be especially beneficial for gout-sufferers. Sesame, too, is touted as a gout-friendly seasoning. If you wanted to make this even better for a gout-patient, I might also add julienned daikon, or grapes, apples, peas or cooked spinach. The skinned fish filets, only moderately seasoned with spices and pan-fried in olive oil, provide another measure of protein.


CURRY-GLAZED COD WITH WASABI-SESAME SOBA SALAD
Serves 2
For the Salad:
7-8 oz. package of dried soba noodles, cooked al dente
1-2 cups prepared Sea Salad
1/4 cup julienned carrots, about 1/2 small carrot (optional)
1-2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds
lemon quarters

Dressing:
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 tsp. raw sugar ( or less regular sugar)
pea-size dollop of wasabi paste
sea salt, to taste
ground white pepper, to taste

Whisk together Dressing ingredients. Pour over cooked soba noodles. Toss together with Sea Salad and carrots, if using. Squeeze lemon juice atop noodles. Sprinkle top with sesame seeds


For the Fish:

Fish Curry Spice Mix:
1 TBL. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground fennel
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric


Combine spices and set aside.

2 4oz. skinless filets of cod, or other flaky white meat fish
1 TBL. lemon juice per filet
sea salt
ground white pepper

Sprinkle each side of the filets with lemon juice, then with the curry spice mix. Let marinate for 20 minutes.

Pre-heat pan over medium high heat. Season fish with salt and pepper. Add oil to pan, and place white side of filet down on pan, and gently press to make full contact. Cook for 2 minutes, then turn over and gently press. Cook another 3-4 minutes, or until fish flakes under a fork. Meanwhile plate the noodles. Place hot filets on noodles and serve immediately.

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When Life hands you green papayas . . .


There is no fruit in the Hawaiian Islands I love more than papaya. Mangoes come a close second; but we've been able to find delicious mango varieties when we've lived in non-tropical parts of the world, never so with papayas. Never. I think you have to be close to the source to get a truly delicious papaya. We've been tempted and tricked by beautiful deep orange-colored papayas in markets in Europe and the US East Coast, but were always disappointed by the sweet, but vapid and watery fruit that met our spoons.

Hawaii, though, is papaya heaven. Orange flesh, red flesh it's all good. With a squeeze of lime, it's perfectly papaya-sweet. And it's jaw-droppingly cheap. Fifty-nine cents a pound, on sale; but even at .79, .99, 1.29 per pound, way way below Mainland and Continental prices. On our last trip to the Big Island, some vendors at the Hilo Market were selling 5 papayas for $2 that's not 5 lbs, but 5 whole papayas! (Have spoon, will travel.) And so we have papaya as often as possible, which is not every day so it's still not often enough.

Having said this, there are other ways to enjoy papayas when the fresh ripe ones are not the best choice. Eat it green. Like bananas, papayas enjoy a different life as a green fruit. Treated more as a vegetable, the firm white or slightly pink flesh of an under-ripe papaya can be diced and added to soups or stews, as one might with squash or gourds (see Chicken Tinola), or julienned and lightly dressed with a tangy lime and fish sauce to make a refreshing salad. Growing up on Guam, my favorite pickle in the world was pickled green papaya, similar to the southeast Asian style salads, but marinated only in vinegar, boonie peppers (donne) and salt.

With a benriner, mandoline, or julienne-peeler, making green papaya salad is a snap. And don't confine this salad to southeast Asian themed meals. A nice palate-cleanser with rich curries or stews, as well as deep-fried and grilled foods, a papaya salad brings a touch of the tropics to any meal. We've even used it to liven up the next day's lunch it becomes a punchy condiment for a meatloaf sandwich, or a last minute pasta salad with the addition of chicken and somen or soba noodles.

Note: Green papayas are light in weight for their size
their seeds are not developed and their flesh, while moist, is not heavy and juicy like their fully-ripened brethren.

GREEN PAPAYA SALAD
(adapted from
Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Alford & Duguid)

1lb. green papaya (approximate weight), peeled and julienned

Toss with 2
tsp. sea salt and leave for 30 minutes. Rinse well, and drain.

Dressing:
1 large garlic clove

1 TBL.
chopped dry-roast peanuts
1
TBL. dried shrimp, chopped
1-2 fresh red chilies
1
tsp. raw sugar (or 1/2 tsp. white sugar)
1/2
tsp. sea salt

Place ingredients in a mortar, and pound together to make a wet paste. (If you want the salad to be less spicy, don't add the whole pepper(s) to the mortar. Simply slice the bottom half of the pepper, avoiding the seeds, and add that to the paste mixture, or add the slices to the dressing below. But don't leave the peppers out completely or the balance will be "off.")

Juice of 3 limes (to make about 1/3 cup)
2-3 TBL. fish sauce (Thai fish sauces tend to be saltier and fishier than Vietnamese or Filipino fish sauces, so how much you use depends on the brand and personal taste)
Cilantro or mint, minced (optional)

In a large bowl that can accommodate all the julienned papaya, combine lime juice and fish sauce, then add paste. Stir well, then taste. It should hint at all the primal flavors of the tropics
salty, sweet, hot and sour. When the balance is to your liking, add papaya and cilantro. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

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"Bubble & Squeak" tweaked . . .

Purple & Squeak

When I received DK's invitation to participate in her first sponsored event at DK's Culinary Bazaar celebrating the year of the potato, I thought this might be the time to try something that's been lurking in the back of my mind for some time. I've always loved the combination of potatoes and cabbage, whether it's as Haluschka (potatoes, cabbage, onion and caraway) or the delightfully named Bubble & Squeak (mashed potatoes and cooked cabbage). And it's the latter that has been tickling my imagination for as long as we've had access to the gorgeous dark purple Okinawan sweet potatoes here in Hawaii what if you combined purple potatoes with purple (i.e., red) cabbage and red onions? You would have, of course, Purple & Squeak (you can see in the photo that even the mustard seeds took on a red tinge after they popped, so as to blend with today's color scheme).
Sweet and savory potato varietiesSweet Potatoes and Yam
Hawaii has a wondrous bounty of sweet potato varieties. At left, basketfuls of taro (upper left), russets, and two varieties of Okinawan sweet potatoes crowd a display at Kekaulike Mall in Chinatown. At right, 3 varieties of sweet potato (US, top left; Okinawan white, bottom right; and Okinawan purple) and 1 yam (bottom left). The Okinawan varieties have a firmer flesh than the US regular sweet potato.

In Britain, Bubble & Squeak is a dish designed to make-over mashed potatoes and cabbage left from the previous day's Sunday roast; in this case we had leftover
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Awamori (but without the evaporated milk called for in that recipe) and I cooked the red cabbage to make this dish. Given the natural sweetness of the Okinawan purple sweet potato, and the added sweetness of cooked cabbage, I wanted to balance those with a little heat and spice in the form of popped mustard seeds, cumin, chaat masala and a chopped jalapeno (seeded). We enjoyed this dish very much, and will make it again. We had it first with grilled fish and couscous, but loved it even more simply wrapped in a warm whole wheat tortilla with cilantro sprigs tucked in the middle.

DK's Potato Fe(a)st is open until Feb. 29th. If you enjoy potatoes, both savory and sweet, as much as I do, check out her site to enter or to see the Round-up soon.

PURPLE & SQUEAK
1 quantity of
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Awamori (2 lbs. of sweet potatoes)

2
TBL. olive oil
1
TBL. brown mustard seeds
1 medium red onion, diced
1 serrano or jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
2 tsp. cumin powder
1 medium red cabbage (about 2 lbs/1kg), sliced lengthwise into 1-inch (2.5cm) wide slices
sea salt

1 tsp. chaat masala
cilantro for garnish

Heat oil over medium high heat in large saute pan or wok. When hot, add mustard seeds and stir until they begin popping, then immediately add onion. Stir to coat onion, then cover pan and turn heat to low. Allow onions to cook until translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Remove cover and return heat to medium high. Move onions aside, creating a space in the middle of the pan, and add cumin powder to the center, stirring well to cook through for 1 minute. Add peppers, and saute for another 5 minutes. Add cabbage and 1 tsp. sea salt, mix well. Cover and cook until cabbage is tender, about 15 minutes.

Stir in prepared Mashed Sweet Potatoes and mix well to combine. Cover and heat through completely. Sprinkle with chaat masala and garnish with minced cilantro. Serve with any grilled fish or meat. Or eat either rolled in or atop (like a pizza) your favorite homemade or purchased flatbread. You can also shape into patties and pan fry with olive oil
the stickier texture of the sweet potato means no egg is required for binding for entree-type cutlets.

Purple & Squeak as a side dish



Skinless potatoes should be eaten less frequently by those with gout conditions, although potatoes with skin are considered good for those on a gout management diet. I wouldn't imagine eating the purple sweet variety with its skin, since it tends to be a bit tough after cooking; although the Okinawan white-flesh sweet variety could be mashed with the skin.

Cabbage is also high on the list of good foods for gout management. I would include this in dad's low-purine regimen by using a larger percentage of the cabbage mixture to sweet potato, and ensuring the other elements of the meal were especially low-purine, such as quinoa and lemon roasted chicken.

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The GDC: Chicken, Green Beans & Cherries in Tomato Sauce

Chicken Meatballs in Tomato-Green Bean Stew

While looking for interesting ways to cope with dad's diet limitations (our Gout Diet Challenge, GDC) as he works to reduce the visible uric crystal deposits (called tophi) on his hands and knees, the flavors of the Mediterranean still resound most strongly. We took a cruise through the Greek Islands many years ago with my parents, stopping in ports only long enough for T and I to make a mad dash through any groceries and bakeries we could find while my parents and aunt took the ship-sponsored tours or hung out in harbor-side cafes. The cruise only emphasized how fruitless it was for us to take a big-ship cruise through these wondrous islands, since you spend no quality time on any island.

It was long enough, however, to introduce us to new flavors. One that has remained a staple in our house since that cruise is Fassoulakia me Domates, Green Beans with Tomatoes. We found a small cafe at the harbor in Hydra and ordered some food to take back with us to the ship, and once on board, skipped the formal ship dinner to feast on our local finds. To be honest, I don't remember much about the other foods we ordered, there were stuffed vegetables, fish, lamb, etc., but the lovely stewed beans in tangy tomato sauce was something I had to duplicate when we returned home.

At that time, I had one Greek cookbook, "Greek Cooking for the Gods," by Eva Zane. It had come highly recommended by a friend who regularly cooked from it for her Greek boyfriend, and it was my stand-by for moussaka, spanakopita, and the Easter bread that I loved. The recipe for Fassoulakia me Domates in this book looked promising, but it did not include currants, which had been in the beans we tried from Hydra. I included currants in our first try, and it was a pretty close match. Since then, I've also used raisins, sultanas, even diced apricots, and loved the results; and even omitting dried fruit altogether is delicious.

To adapt this recipe for the GDC, I used dried tart cherries (black tart cherries are recommended for gout management) instead of currants. And I added cooked chicken (chicken is better than turkey for gout-sufferers) meatballs to make it a one-dish meal. Without meat, it is an easy side dish for roasted or grilled meats, or a very filling vegetarian entree served with couscous or to stuff a baked potato. Or as a flatbread pizza topping (that's for bee and Jai)!
(See the new
GDC Round-up for more gout-friendly recipes)

Chicken, Beans and Cherries in Tomato Sauce

CHICKEN WITH GREEN BEANS & CHERRIES IN TOMATO SAUCE
(Inspired by the gorgeous island of Hydra and heavily adapted from "Greek Cooking for the Gods")

Chicken Meatballs
1 lb. (450g) ground chicken
1/2 medium onion, minced
1 clove garlic
1 large egg
1 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper (optional)
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients and shape into golf-ball sized rounds. Saute in pan lined with 1/2-inch oil until browned on all sides, or place on baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and bake in tabletop oven for 20 minutes. Add hot to sauce, or cool completely and freeze to make ahead (add to sauce frozen after beans have simmered for 20 minutes, then cook for another 40 minutes).

**
To use fresh chicken, use 1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast or thigh meat cut into 1-inch cubes. Combine paprika, cumin, peppers and salt (omit oregano) listed in Meatball recipe above, and coat diced chicken in dry mixture. Set aside 30 minutes, then add to Tomato Sauce below after beans have simmered for 20 minutes, then continue cooking for the remaining 40 minutes in the original recipe.

Tomato Sauce
4
TBL. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dried cherries (or currants, raisins, sultanas)
1 TBL. dried oregano
1/2
tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried dill (optional)

6 ripe tomatoes, or 1 28oz. (780g) canned tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup dry white wine, or chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 bunch fresh Italian parsley (flat-leaf), about 1 cup chopped
1 bay leaf
1 lb. green beans


In large saute pan set over low heat, sweat onions in olive oil until transparent (take your time, this will take 8-10 minutes at least). Add garlic and dried cherries, and cook until both are just softened. Add oregano, thyme and dill (if using), and mix through onion mixture and leave to cook about 2 minutes, or until herbs become fragrant.

Turn heat up to medium high and immediately add tomatoes, wine/broth, parsley and bay leaf. (If you omit the dried fruit completely, add 1/2
tsp. brown sugar to sauce.) Partially cover, and leave to simmer 20 minutes while you prepare beans.

Wash and tip green beans to remove stringy spine. Leave whole or cut into 2-inch lengths, it's up to your own aesthetics and who you are cooking for. Add to tomato sauce, cover completely and let simmer over low heat for 30-40 minutes. Add cooked meatballs, cover and simmer another 30 minutes.

Serve with couscous, quinoa or amaranth (the latter two are very beneficial for the management of gout), fresh pita or other flatbread, or
Mestizo Rice. In the photo, it is plated with cinnamon couscous.
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As wild as I can get: Warabi (Fiddlehead ferns)

UPDATE JANUARY 9, 2009:

Thanks to Caleb for bringing up a point of concern and confusion...

Outside of Hawaii, the term “Warabi” is applied to the unfurled fronds of the
Fernbracken (Pteridium aquilinum), also called simply Bracken (seen at left, with thanks to Crizzles). In the last 30 years or so, medical and chemical studies have linked chronic or excessive ingestion of Fernbracken by cattle and humans to esophageal and stomach tumors, and beriberi disease. Fernbracken can be found on every continent except Antartica, according to Wikipedia. It is used in traditional medicines of many cultures around the world, and is also a popular cooking ingredient (both the fronds and the rhizomes) in Japan and Korea. Recently concerns about a possible link between Fernbracken and gastric tumors has led authorities to caution people to limit their consumption of Fernbracken “warabi.” But according to the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa, this does not apply to the Vegetable Fern below.

The frond of the Fernbracken looks different from that of its distant cousin, the Vegetable Fern (Diplazium esculentum, photo below), which is the focus of the original post below. Vegetable Fern (click on “5. Economic Uses” in this link) is found throughout Asia and Oceania (which includes Australia and Hawaii) and is a viable and safe food crop.

In Hawaii, the Vegetable Fern is sold as a fresh vegetable under the name “Ho‘i’o” or “Warabi,” which can lead to some confusion with the infamous Fernbracken. To make things even more confusing, in Hawaii (and elsewhere, including here in metro DC) you can find commercial preparations of pickled or cooked Fernbracken “Warabi” from Japan or Korea (in vacuum sealed packages) in the chilled aisles of Asian groceries — this is the warabi that should be consumed in limited amounts.

I will be very curious to see what is sold as fiddleheads in farmers’ markets in our new locale this spring. I don’t expect to see Vegetable Fern fronds, but maybe I’ll be in for a surprise!


Original Post

Warabi: fern or dragon?

As I've finally had a chance to sit down with one of the long-awaited cookbooks I received for Christmas, I've been haunted by the desire for wild greens. Laurie at Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska, has written a cookbook to benefit the building of her local church in Alaska. The cookbook, "Tastes Like Home," is filled with recipes from the church's Greek Orthodox parishioners and are brought to life in the stories and histories Laurie has captured here. The most captivating ones for me are always those that feature fresh greens, but there is special emphasis in this book on wild greens. And so I'm itching for something wild, something green. I confess I don't know the first thing about hunting wild greens, especially here in the Islands, but I always pounce on anything that remotely resembles a wild green in a market.

Which is how I came to know this fernhead green, sold locally as warabi. I love the kind of dragon-in-waiting feel the lone fiddlehead has. Warabi is easy to clean and prepare. Here we flash-cooked it with garlic, olive oil and sea salt (see
Watercress post for cooking method). It lacks the bite, or slight bittterness, I crave with wild greens, but it's certainly a fun vegetable to work (and play) with! See also Sesame Warabi.
Raw warabiFlash-cooked warabi with garlic
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5-A-Day: Flash-Cooked Watercress


Still starved for fresh greens, I bought 3 large bunches of watercress in Chinatown. The photo here shows 1 bunch of cleaned, trimmed cress. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that before coming to Hawaii I only considered cress for 2 things: tea sandwiches and a plate garnish. Pretty sad, no? Both these ideas came from my training in London, but I'm glad I've overcome these limitations in my thinking and have embraced watercress for the versatile, nutritious vegetable it truly is.

Watercress, like mustard greens (see
earlier post), is a cruciferous vegetable and like its cousins broccoli and cabbage, has long been recognized as an important source of calcium, iron and folic acid. According to Wikipedia, it is one of the oldest known leaf greens eaten by humans (read more). Eaten raw, watercress is prized for its peppery flavor; but when cooked, it takes on a more savory, almost tangy character, that stands up well like to strong flavors such as garlic or fermented black bean sauce, both popular preparations in restaurants serving knowledgeable Chinese clientele. Again, if you like strong flavored greens such as endive, chicory or broccoli rabe, there's a good chance you will enjoy watercress both raw and cooked.

Perhaps the best incentive to add this delicious green to your culinary repetoire is the exciting research coming out of the University of Ulster (UK) in the last year about the anti-cancer properties of watercress. That study found that daily intake of a modest amount of watercress (about 85g) can significantly reduce an important cancer trigger, namely DNA damage to white blood cells; as well as lowering cholesterol and improving absorption of lutein and beta-carotene, key minerals for eye health and the prevention of age-related conditions such as cataracts. Read more about this on the
Medical News Today site.


If you're lucky enough to live near Alresford, Hampshire, UK, you can attend the Watercress Festival on Sunday, May 11, 2008. There is also a newer festival in the US that celebrates watercress in Osceola, Wisconsin the third annual fest should be in late spring (no details available yet).

Here on Oahu, watercress grows in a most amazing locale. This close view of the Sumida Farms in Aiea (at right) shows us the lush vegetation amid irrigation culverts one would expect in a watercress farm.

But the larger view reveals that this beautifully cultivated and landscaped oasis of edible green fronts one of the major east-west thoroughfares on Oahu, Farrington Highway, and is bounded on its other three side by a large shopping mall, Pearlridge Center! The first photo is taken from the highway, which sits right beside the northernmost end of Pearl Harbor, and looks to the northeast corner of the farm. The second photo is taken from the northern (mauka) side of the shopping center, looking back towards Pearl Harbor (makai) and the highway side of the farm. Cultivation and harvest is year-round, as evidenced by the taller dark green patches adjacent to apparently harvested lighter colored patches. What a poetic resource!
View of Sumida Farms from highwayView of Sumida Farms watercress

So how to incorporate watercress into your diet? Well, instead of looking for specific recipes for watercress, again I would recommend using it in your own favorite preparations for fresh spinach or braised greens. Of the 3 bunches we bought, one was braised with garlic using the same method as for the Mustard Greens (
see post), one was used along with spinach in Sukiyaki (coming soon), and one was flash-cooked for later use as a topping for Okinawan soba or ramen. When we buy very perishable greens such as watercress or mustard greens, I will usually either garlic-braise or flash-cook them within a day of purchase. Cooked, the greens take up less precious fridge space and are no longer susceptible to wilting. I've also provided myself with some handy timesavers for mid-week meals: with cold potatoes and eggs, we can have a frittata in 20 minutes, or an omelet in 10; with a few additional spices and perhaps a sauce, we will have a great pasta; with a sesame dressing, we have a cooked salad to accompany any meal; after a 10 second buzz in a microwave, we have a great topping for ramen; or it can provide a healthy boost to your favorite soup recipe a couple of nights ago we added some flash-cooked watercress in the last 10 minutes of cooking a homemade chicken vegetable soup. One recipe still on the back burner in my mind is to substitute all of the spinach in a spinach dip with watercress I'll get back to you on that one, but if someone out there does it sooner, I'd love to hear how that worked for you!

Until then, here is my method for flash-cooking watercress, or any easy-to-cook green.

FLASH-COOKED WATERCRESS

1 large bunch watercress, about 1lb (450g)
2-4
TBL. olive oil
2-5 cloves garlic, diced (optional)
sea salt (optional)

Trim hollow stems of watercress to about 1-inch (5cm) of the leafy parts. Wash thoroughly in clean water, and vinegar-water solution (see
Mustard Greens post for detailed directions on washing leafy greens). Cut into 2-inch (10cm) lengths.

Heat wok or other large pot just to smoking point. Add enough olive oil to coat wok/pot, then add garlic, if using, and let gently brown (about 10-15 seconds), then remove from pan.

Add watercress, and using 2 wooden spoons or spatulas, turn to coat with oil. Add more oil to the sides of the wok, if necessary, but not directly on the greens. Continue cooking on medium-high to high heat until the cress wilts and becomes bright green. Remove from heat and add salt to taste, if using (I don't use salt if I'm not using the greens right away). Cover and leave in pan another 5 minutes.

Gently squeeze greens to remove excess moisture, and either dress and use right away, or store in fridge for up to 3 days. If storing, be certain the greens will be cooked again (as in soup,
Plasto, tortilla, etc.). If using as a ramen topping or side dish, microwave briefly to heat through before serving.
Sesame Watercress

SESAME DRESSING
2-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
3
TBL. toasted (aka "dark) sesame oil
1 TBL. raw sugar
1
tsp. sea salt
2 TBL. mirin, sake, or sherry
1
tsp. soy sauce

Sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

Mix together sugar, salt, mirin and soy sauce. Stir to dissolve sugar. Pour over cooked cress and garnish with sesame seeds.

Watercress and vegetable tempura kamaboko top this ramen for an easy, nutritious one-bowl meal.
Okinawan Soba with cress and kamaboko

More Recipes with Watercress:
Watercress Dumplings
Portuguese Bean Soup
Green Papaya Soup (Tinola)

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5-A-Day: Chinese mustard greens (Gai Choy)


Whew . . . !! After 7 days away 4 and 1/2 of which were spent in a car or plane, or at an airport it is GOOD to be back home. In addition to the stress of travel, we were traveling to a funeral so there was the added emotional toll as well. Having arrived home after too many meals that were deep-fried or involved hamburgers, I am really craving greens of any kind! A leisurely trip to Chinatown yesterday allowed us to pick up some of our favorites at their freshest -- watercress, Chinese mustard cabbage, and baby bok choy.

It's true that all these greens are available at most of the groceries around the island, so why do we trek 25 miles into town and pay for parking to shop in Chinatown? Selection. Quality. Prices are also generally 20-40 percent cheaper than at the supermarkets, too, but unless you are buying in quantity or buying a lot of groceries, the savings may not make up what you will pay to park your car (see earlier
post about Chinatown for details). The main reason we like the produce in Chinatown is the incredibly high turnover rate of both fruits and vegetables in almost all the markets there. What is put on the shelves at 7 or 8 a.m. is generally gone before lunch time! This translates to produce that is really fresh, and hasn't been sitting on a too-cold supermarket produce counter for days. Many vendors continue to replenish their tables until lunch, but by the afternoon the remaining produce has been pretty picked over.

Today will highlight the first of two lovely green vegetables that deserve a larger place in our vegetable repetoire, Chinese mustard cabbage. The next post will highlight our all-time favorite, Watercress.

Chinese mustard greens, also called
gai choi, is a peppery variety of the cabbage family. The specimen in this photo is fully mature and should be cooked. Both the stems and leaves are edible and will cook to a pungent, peppery finish. If slow-cooked, it will become meltingly tender, like collards or mustard greens, but will keep its peppery bite. If you like broccoli rabe, arugula ("rocket" to our friends in the UK), or Belgian endive, you will probably like gai choy. Younger gai choy will have slender, straight, dark green stems, and can be eaten raw as a salad green, or quickly stir-fried. It has less of a bite than a fully mature cabbage, more like a nibble.

Cleaning Vegetables in a Vinegar Wash
To prepare mature gai choy for cooking, remove stems from core and wash well first in clean container of water, rubbing away the soil and grit at the bottom of the stems. Remove vegetables from water, drain water and fill container with a solution of 2
TBL. white vinegar and 2 quarts/liters cool water. Rinse stems and leaves thoroughly in this solution. Lift out of water, swishing leaves gently as you lift (avoid dumping water out of container while greens are still in the water it is easier for grit and dirt to remain on your greens. Rinse again with clean water. Drain in colander.

Separate stems and leafy parts. Halve and julienne leafy greens; and halve and dice stems. If using for braised dishes or soups, add thick stem pieces early to cook down, and leafy bits in the last 15-20 minutes of cooking. Recipes previously posted that would work well with gai choy:
Portuguese Bean Soup, or Chicken Tinola (Chicken and Green Papaya soup) or Plasto (Greek cornbread and greens). Or try substituting gai choy for all or half the regular greens in your favorite recipe for slow-cooked Collard Greens or Mustard Greens. Here is a quick and simple way to cook gai choy: Garlic Braised Mustard Cabbage.
Garlic Braised Mustard Greens

GARLIC BRAISED MUSTARD CABBAGE
I large bunch mustard cabbage, or gai choy, cleaned, stemmed and diced/julienned (see above)
2-3 TBL. olive oil
4-6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth, or water
1/2
tsp. sea salt (optional)
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper (optional)

Heat oil in wok over medium-high heat. Add garlic and stir to release fragrance and gently brown, then remove garlic and keep aside. Add cleaned mustard greens stem pieces to oil, add broth, cover and let cook 10-20 minutes, or until beginning to soften. Stir to mix well, then add leafy parts of cabbage, cover and cook another 5-8 minutes, or until leafy parts are bright green. Remove cover and allow broth to reduce by half. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper, if using. Remove to serving plate and garnish with browned garlic.

We serve this as a side dish with any meal, from meatloaf and mashed potatoes, to rice and pan-seared tofu (Okinawan Champuru). I especially enjoy gai choy prepared this way and served with its garlicky pan gravy on top of mashed potatoes for a filling and delicious non-meat meal.

More recipes with Mustard Cabbage:
Tian of Roasted Potatoes & Chinese Mustard Greens
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Gift for the Chef: Easy Sweet & Spicy Prawns


As you all can attest, time is really at a premium right now. Anything that will get dinner on the table quickly and with delicious results (does that go without saying by now?) is a gift and a joy. Well, since I had some extra Sweet & Spicy Nuts from the last post, and all the ingredients to whip together the sauce for the Sweet & Spicy Prawns that we put in a recipe kit for friends (same post), I went with the easy meal and made the prawns for us last night. The shiitake mushrooms were a last minute addition, only because I already had some re-hydrated from the previous evening's preparations. As it's still flu and cold season, the shiitake are an added boost for our immune systems, along with the heavy dose of ginger in the sauce.

The local ginger available here in the Islands is so fresh, it can be quite tender (no woody filaments), with a papery-thin skin that will peel off with a firm rub with one's bare hands. When it is this fresh, I thinly sliced the ginger instead of grating it as the recipe suggests. The tender spiced ginger can be consumed as part of the dish, similar in texture to bamboo shoots. From opening the fridge to decide on something for dinner to setting the table, this meal was done in 35 minutes. We actually had to wait for the rice to finish cooking and steaming after the shrimp was already done. (Anyway, it was a chance to snap a few photos!)

SWEET & SOUR PRAWNS
1 lb./455g raw prawns, boneless chicken or firm tofu
1 egg white
3 TBL. cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
3 TBL. sake or water
Marinate prawns for 20 minutes in egg white, cornstarch, salt, water. If using chicken, cube, then marinate. For tofu, press dry, then cut in large (2 in./5cm) cubes, and either deep-fry, or pan-fry to brown all sides. Do not marinate tofu.

Sauce:
2 TBL. ketchup
1 TBL. sambal oelek or garlic-chili sauce
1-½ TBL. sugar
1-½ TBL. rice wine or apple juice
1 TBL. cornstarch stirred in 2 TBL. water
Mix together ketchup, sambal/chili-garlic sauce, sugar, rice wine and cornstarch mixture. Set aside.

Heat 3 cups oil in a pan or wok to smoking point. Fry half of the prawns, chicken or tofu. Remove when meat or tofu is evenly browned and floats to surface of oil, drain well on paper toweling. Re-heat oil, then fry second batch. Meanwhile, prepare sauce.

5 TBL. oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 TBL. grated fresh ginger (or thinly sliced if very fresh)
1 1/2 cup water or broth
6 medium shiitake mushrooms, re-hydrated, squeezed dry and quartered (not traditional, optional)

1 bunch scallions, washed and chopped finely
1/2-3/4 cup (60-90g) Sweet & Spicy Nuts (chopped)

In another pan or wok put 5 tablespoons of oil and fry garlic and ginger for 30 seconds. When fragrant, add mushrooms, if using. Add Sauce and water or broth, cook together for about 1 minute. Add cooked prawns, chicken or tofu, and stir to coat with sauce.


Remove from pan and garnish with chopped scallions and Sweet & Spicy Nuts. Serve with hot rice and your choice of vegetables.


Blog-Event XXX: Ingwer

This recipe has been submitted to the Ginger Event sponsored by the unstoppable zorra at 1x umrühren bitte.
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A Bit of Lost Sunshine: Pina Colada Trifle

UPDATE: Dear Zorra has posted the Round-up for SHF #38 just in time for all our New Year's celebrations. Come see all the wonderful recipes from around the world here:

SHF #38 - The proof is in the Pudding!



Sunshine in a cup: Pina Colada Trifle
It's a bit of a mess here in not-at-all-sunny Oahu today power lines and trees are on the roads, roofs have blown away, schools are closed, buses aren't running, many homes are without power. All this the result of a freak windstorm in the early morning hours. The weather reporter said the UV (ultra-violet) Index for today was 1 (it's usually 10-12), so that tells you how dark and dreary it is today, and will continue to be until the weekend. I always think of our poor visitors, some who are here on a vacation of a lifetime, some to escape the dreary weather in their cold hometowns. How awful to have come so far and then be told by the civil defense authorities that people should stay indoors, seas are too rough for boat travel or swimming.

So here's a little aloha to all of our wind-swept visitors (and to everyone in a colder clime): a ray of island sunshine in a cup, the Pina Colada Trifle. A fresh pineapple and rum cake is enveloped by a creamy, gently sweet coconut pudding. Easy to make, easy to serve. What could be better during this busy season? (The cake improves with one day's wait, so bake it early if time permits.)

PINA COLADA TRIFLE
Part I: Pineapple Rum Cake
12 TBL. (170 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups (250g) brown sugar
6 egg yolks

3 cups (270g) sifted cake flour
1 TBL. + 1 tsp. (20 grams) baking powder
3/4 tsp. (5g) salt
½ cup (112 ml) dark rum
½ cup (112ml) milk
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cups (360g) chopped fresh pineapple

Preheat oven to 350F (177C).  Butter and flour 2 9-inch x 1-1/2 inch (23 x 3.75 cm) cake pans, or 1 13x9-inch pan. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder.
Combine rum, vanilla and milk.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar on high until sugar dissolves and mixture is light. On medium speed, add egg yolks, one at a time, ensuring each yolk is incorporated before adding the next. Scrape down bowl.  Add dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with rum mix, and ending with dry. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are incorporated, then increase mixer speed to medium and beat for about 2 minutes. Scrape down bowl.  Add pineapple and fold in.

Pour batter into the prepared pan(s). Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, or when the cake springs back when pressed lightly in center.  Cool in pan on wire rack.

Part II: Haupia (Coconut Pudding)
(This recipe produces a looser pudding than haupia served by itself. If you want to make Haupia squares, increase cornstarch to 4 TBL.)
1-½ cup (350ml) coconut milk (12 oz. can)
1 ½ cup (350ml) water
3-4 TBL. sugar
3 TBL. cornstarch

Combine water, sugar, and cornstarch and cook over low heat until just below simmering. Stir constantly until sugar dissolves. Slowly add coconut milk, stirring constantly. Keep stirring, shifting directions, and stirring across the center so the mixture is in constant motion and doesn’t burn. After 10 to 15 minutes the color will change from chalky opaque to shiny bright white, and the mixture will thicken. Remove from heat and let cool at room temperature.

To Assemble: Cut cooled cake into 1 in. (2.5cm) cubes. Place in individual wine glasses. Pour slightly cooled haupia over cake. When pudding has completely cooled, cover and chill until serving time. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh grated coconut.
Pina Colada Trifle


SHF #38 - The proof is in the Pudding!

Aloha also to all those participating in Sugar High Friday, hosted this month by the indefatigable zorra, aka kochtopf, at 1x umrühren bitte. This is my first entry to this long-standing blog event!

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A Taste of Greece: Plasto

Greek Plasto

The day before Thanksgiving our trusty toaster oven gave up the ghost after 50 months of nearly daily use. We really test the limits of our table-top ovens — roasts, casseroles, tians, cakes, brownies, and yes, even, toast are produced each day in its energy-efficient cave. I had intended to roast the 9lb. organic turkey breast we secured for turkey day in the toaster, instead T was called upon to work his Grillmeister skills on the bird that day. We also had to do our Friday night turkey tetrazzini on the grill, and that worked pretty well.

Thanksgiving bird on the grill Turkey tetrazzini ala grill

We were all set to prepare Monday's new recipe on the grill as well when lo and behold, the FedEx man came with my new DeLonghi convection oven with rotisserie. Yay! This is the third DeLonghi toaster oven we've had, the first with either convection function or a rotisserie. I thought about baking this dish on the grill anyway to go into more detail about using a grill as an alternative oven, but let's be serious, I wanted to play with my new oven! : P
Plasto baking in our new oven!

So the inaugural meal from the new toaster oven was from Laurie at Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska — Laurie writes about Greek cooking from her home in Alaska. She speaks with the perspective of a native Greek chef (she has a second home in the islands there), and she's adapted traditional Greek recipes to the North American kitchen. Her posts include history, anecdotes, and cultural insight (distilled from 400 Greek cookbooks in her collection!) into the many dishes she prepares and shares. I love those sort of details, don't you? The first of the many recipes I've earmarked to try is called Plasto, but Laurie notes it has many other names as well. Basically it's a braise of mixed greens and cheeses enveloped in a cornbread crust. Doesn't sound like a typical Greek dish you'd find in a restaurant, does it? We love greens, we love cheese, I love corn — this recipe had our names written all over it. Here is Laurie's recipe.
Greek cornbread and greens: Plasto
The beauty of this dish is that it seems so adaptable. Change the greens, change the cheese and you'll have a different experience. We used Chinese broccoli, watercress and garlic chives for the greens, and a mild sheep's milk cheese (Ossau-Irarty) this time. It was a delicious combination of savory (greens) and sweet (cornbread). If you like collard greens and pot likker with cornbread, it's kind of like that, but in a casserole. And Laurie notes that this dish is equally good cold, and it is — you can eat it like a sandwich. Brilliant!
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Honolulu's Chinatown: Come see what you've been missing

Lions greeting visitors to the Maunakea Marketplace Main entrance to Maunakea Marketplace
It's with great sadness that I read the growing number of reports about problems with foods and products made in mainland China. It gives one pause and certainly makes me look twice and thrice at labels. But I know I should do that anyway, regardless of where I buy something, whether it's a supermarket or an small ethnic grocery.

Many people we know have also told us they are wary of going to Chinatown here because they've heard it's scary or they've seen things on TV about high crime there. We heard the same thing about Boston's Chinatown when we lived in that area, and London's too. We didn't find those things to be true in those places either. I think it's a matter of being smart and careful, just as you would in any part of a large metropolitan area.
Colorful fruit stand at the Hotel Strret entrance to Maunakea Market Looking down Hotel Street toward River St. From Oahu Market, looking uptown
So I'd like to share the Honolulu Chinatown that we know and love. It's a terrific place. We try to go every couple of weeks for fresh produce, fish and seafood, bakery items, and a few dry goods. If you're interested in learning more about some of the unfamiliar items you might find on the store shelves, I highly recommend Linda Bladholm's
The Asian Grocery Store Demystified.

Where is it? Where do you park?
Chinatown is located Downtown Honolulu and is roughly bordered by Nimitz Highway to the south, River Steet (west), Beretania Street (north), and Nuuanu Avenue (east). Caveat: all these streets, except Nimitz are one-way. (
See a map from mapquest.com showing one-way streets) The street signs in Chinatown are pretty distinct, as they're written in both English and Chinese script.
Chinatown's unique street signs

Street parking is limited and 1-hour slots only (free Sundays and holidays), but there are municipal garages (pay half-hourly) on Smith (near Nimitz), Maunakea (near King), Nuuanu (past King), and Maunakea (near Beretania, at Chinese Cultural Plaza). Our favorite place to park, though, is at a private lot at the corner of Nuuanu and Nimitz (weekend rate, $4 all day til 5pm). We've been known to get to Chinatown for breakfast and not leave until after lunch so this is a good deal for us.
Philippine vegetable stand Freshest vegetables available Roasted and barbequed meats at Wing Loy
Where to buy:

  • Seafood: we go to the Troy Enterprise fish market (corner of King and Kekaulike Marketplace) for fresh whole moi (sweet white-meat fish) and Dungeness crabs (they will gut and scale the fish for you on request), and Da Kine Seafood (Maunakea, b/w King and Nimitz) also for Dungeness and for frozen seafood (they carry froglegs, French escargots — with or without butter, and crawfish tail meat if you're looking for such exotics); The Oahu Market (across Troy Enterprise) also has several different fish and seafood vendors; Wah Wah Seafoods (King/Keakaulike) has fresh fish and live frogs and eels; Seven Sisters (inside Maunakea Mktpl) has fresh local sweet shrimp
    • Fresh meat: market stalls at the Oahu Market and in Kekaulike Marketplace, and Maunakea Marketplace: you can find whole oxtail and other cuts of beef, sides of pork, fresh chickens
    • Produce: the market stalls on King, and in and around Kekaulike Marketplace can't be beat for price and selection (the early bird gets the best choices, they start opening around 6:30am)
    • Fresh noodles: we go to Yat Ting Chow Noodle Factory (King/River) for saimin, udon, and wonton, gyoza and mandoo wrappers; and Look Funn for plain, char siu or shrimp rice noodles
    • Chinese BBQ and roast meats: Eastern Food Center
    (King/Kekaulike Mkt), Wing Loy (Maunakea/Hotel), and Nam Fong (across from Wing Loy)
    • Pastries: Chinese (Lee, on King; Ruby's on Hotel; ) and Filipino (Pelio on Hotel); many dim sum houses will also carry pastries you can order for take-away
    • Chinese dry goods: There is the venerable Bo Wah (Maunakea/Hotel), but of course many many others throughout the area
    • Vietnamese dry goods: many along King Street between Kekaulike Mktplace and River St), 555 Market (King/Kekaulike Mkt)
    • Laotian: (Pauahi/Smith)
  • Thai: Hong Fa Market (Maunkea/Pauahi)
    • Manapua: Char Hung Sut (Pauahi/Smith); most bakeries will also carry different types of manapua
    • Cookware: China Arts on King/Maunakea has both carbon steel and stainless steel woks in a large range of prices and sizes, and other professional grade cookware and utensils; as well as tea sets, and serving and dinner ware
  • Acupuncture/Herbalists: as you might guess, there are quite a few in this neighborhood; we visit the acupuncturist at "Acupuncture and Herbs from China" (Nuuanu/Pauahi); she accepts certain types of insurance (unfortunately not ours), and can provide a receipt for insurance or FSA purposes
Entrance to acupuncture shop Entrance oto Summer Frappe smoothies shop Fresh fish market in the Troy Enterprise Bldg.
Where to eat: Where to begin? This area has quite a trove of dining opportunities and has something for every budget. You'd expect all flavors of Asian restaurants, but there are also Indian, Cuban, Mexican, a French bistro and others too. These are talked about elsewhere in the local press and blogosphere. Since we are rarely in Town in the afternoon, much less after dark, I can only tell you about our favorite breakfast and lunch locales. (Our rule of thumb when scoping out restaurants in an unfamiliar locale: look inside to see who eats there.)
  • The Maunakea Marketplace food court features Singapore, Malaysian, Filipino, Korean, Thai, Japanese, Laotian, Vietnamese and Indian stands. The first four are also open for breakfast, serving not only typical meat-egg entrees, but also warm noodle soups and rice porridges (congee, or arroz caldo at the Filipino stands). In the Maunakea Courtyard, fresh fruit smoothies are the real deal at Summer Frappe (see our post here)
  • The Eastern Food Center is a sit-down BBQ house that also opens early for breakfast, serving traditional breakfasts, but also succulent roast meats and warming congees.
  • There are many Vietnamese pho houses, but our go-to place is Pho 97 (Maunakea/entrance to Marketplace). Their Vietnamese crepe (made with mung beans and coconut milk), spring rolls, bun with BBQ pork, and pho have never disappointed. (Be prepared to wait at peak lunch hours)
  • Finally, there's Good Luck Dim Sum (Beretania/Maunakea). I was weaned on the glorious dim houses in San Francisco so I have to be able to choose my dumplings from a rolling cart, or I feel kind of cheated out of the dim sum experience. You get that full experience here, though the space is a bit small. Of course, you can also order anything off the extensive regular menu. We often order take-out from here, as dim sum makes great picnic food for an afternoon at Foster Gardens.

What else is nearby?
Don't miss Foster Gardens (Vineyard/Maunkea)! There's also an auction house (Nuuanu/King), Chinese antiques (Smith/King), art galleries, the Aloha Tower marketplace, and Fort Street mall shops. We often walk to the Hawaii State library and adjacent Iolani Palace grounds (King/Punchbowl), but that is probably a mile or so away. A nice walk when it's relatively cool out.

Coming soon:
Our favorite treasures from Chinatown (of course, most of them are edible ...)


It took longer than I hoped, but just in time for the Chinese New Year celebrations:
Best Buys in Chinatown
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Double Mango Bread in Deutschland

Lavaterra, writing from Bavaria, in Germany put an overripe mango to good use by baking the mango bread recipe I submitted for World Bread Day (October 16). She is a prolific bread baker so I'm thrilled she was willing to try this recipe. Her bread seemed to have much more fruit through it, and I will update that recipe to include more dried mango. Check out her lovely bread here.

The double mango bread recipe was translated (not well, mind you) into German too: Doppelmango Brot hier.

To see more about the 183 recipes that were submitted for World Bread Day 2007, visit Zorra's incredible Round-up here.
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World Bread Day: Double Mango Bread

(Rezept auf Deutsch hier)

Mango Bread for breakfast

There are few things that call to mind Home and Love more readily than home-baked bread. Even people who don’t grow up with home-baked bread (like me) will feel emotional strings tugged when the aromas and textures of baking bread are evoked. Bread-making also invites Taoist mindfulness and a visceral connection to our food: the frothy wakening of yeast; the rhythmic meditative kneading; the long anticipation of the rises; the glorious aroma of baking bread filling the kitchen; and the simple happiness of having homemade bread in the house. So when I heard about World Bread Day, it was just the catalyst I needed to resolve to start baking again. I’ve dusted off my baker’s apron, scrounged around for the oven thermometer, pulled out my favorite fruit yeast bread recipe and bought some bread flour — so here we go!

When we moved to the hot and dry Leeward side of Oahu 2 years ago, we opted to forego air conditioning. Cool island tradewinds provide comfortable living temperatures 85% of the time, and we’ve learned work-arounds for the 15% when it’s either cloudy and humid, or scorching and windless. One thing we learned early on is: don’t use the oven unless you absolutely, positively HAVE TO. So far, we haven’t had to. T has become a master roaster with the outdoor propane grill, even roasting the Thanksgiving turkey to golden perfection last year. Our large capacity toaster oven does the bulk of the roasting for our small household, everything from whole chickens to loaf quick breads and brownies to roast potatoes and veg. The two things I haven’t made since we came to the Islands are bread and cookies because these both require the large capacity of a full-size oven for proper air circulation and distance from the heating elements.

First, the recipe. I’ve often made the Banana and Cardamom Bread from
1000 Classic Recipes — it produces a mildly sweet, fragrant and dense loaf with a lovely surprise of cardamom in the nose. Now that I have something I’ve never had in my life — access to fresh tree-ripe mangos — I want to substitute an equal amount of mango pulp for the bananas, and ground coriander for the cardamom and see what we get. I also want to add some dried mango because I know from all these years of oatmeal-making that the combination of fresh and dried fruit adds complexities in flavor notes. I think that will really be true in this case because 2 different mango varieties (dried Manila, and fresh Pirie) will be featured in this recipe. I’ll also take notes on measurement conversions for our friends who are metric.

Second, the timing. To do this and not live IN an oven for the rest of the day, I’ll have to plan to bake in the wee small hours of the morning. Which is OK, because I’m usually up early anyway. But to allow the dough a proper rise, I’ll have to start at least 3 hours before baking. Thank goodness for French Roast coffee.

Third, take advantage of having the oven on. My dad always says, if you’re going to turn on the oven, you better make full use of it. He’s right, of course. Pre-heating an oven consumes most of the energy spent in its use. So if we’re going to turn on the whole oven for a loaf of bread, then we’re going to make cookies too. I want to try using wolfberries in something other than oatmeal or soup, so I’ll make a batch of oatmeal cookie dough, using wolfberries and blueberries instead of raisins. These can bake while the bread is in its last hour of rising out of the fridge.


DAY OF BAKING
It’s six o’clock on a cool Oahu morning, I’m on my second mug of French Roast and the dough is in the oven. I’m a little surprised how easily it all came back — the mixing, the kneading rhythm, checking the “proof,” even the clean-up.
Sticky mango dough out of the bowl Dough after 10 minutes of knedaing
When the dough first came together in the bowl, it was pretty wet and sticky, but I loved its deep orange color. I heavily dusted my work space with flour, dumped out the dough, then sprinkled it with lots more flour and floured my hands before starting to knead. Once the kneading started, it was very easy to fall into a meditative mode. Watching the dough start to come together and take form as something so much more than just the sum of it parts; to see the flour proteins stretch and gather, stretch and gather; it was al kind of mesmerizing. I had set a timer for 10 minutes and was startled when it went off. I was happy to see the lovely color was retained and evenly distributed through the dough.
Rolled dough in loaf pan Place pan in oiled plastic bag Risen dough after 2 hours
Looking at my pictures, I didn’t do a very good job of the final shaping of the dough before placing it in the loaf pan and tying it off. If the ballooned plastic bag thing looks too complicated, use your own favorite method for covering your dough while it’s rising.

The biggest stickler I encountered was with my oven. Since I’ve never used it, I’m not at all familiar with its heating properties, and I found out after the first batch of goji-blueberry oatmeal cookies came out that it tends to run cool (the oven thermometer said it was running a hefty 30 degrees cooler than the stated temperature — that’s a lot!). Luckily, there was still time to get the heat up to the right internal temp before the bread was done proofing.

After a 2-hour rise, the dough was ready for the oven. I was so excited that I forgot to add the glaze (I’m a little out of practice). That’s OK, I have a work-around for that. When the aroma first hits you, it’s the simple earthy smell of baking yeast bread — the fruit doesn’t develop until it’s actually out of the oven. (Fresh unsalted butter over the to
p of the hot loaf provides some shine and helps to soften the crust a bit.)

Cooling Mango bread Melted butter glazes the hot bread for shine

Now the hardest part of the whole operation: waiting for the bread to cool before slicing. You can try slicing it while it’s still warm, but I tend to smoosh the bread and then am left with an unattractive, if still delicious, loaf for the rest of its days (or hours). I think I may try this recipe again as rolls so I can eat it hot and not have to worry about the slicing thing.


THE VERDICT
Dense and fruity mango bread

We loved it. It was the chewy, dense, mildly sweet and very fruity bread we were expecting. The mango flavors are great, but we started with tree-ripened Pirie mangos, so it’s hard to go wrong on that note. Whatever your mangos smell like when you’re adding them to the dough, that’s what flavors and smells you’ll get in your loaf. The dried Manila mangos added intense flavors that were very distinct from the Pirie flavors. I think if you can get fresh Manila (they were called "champagne mangos" in the Mainland) mangos and can bear not eating them straight out of your fist, then the fresh and dried Manila mango will really make this bread sing. One disappointment was that no coriander came through at all, so I would up the amount to a full teaspoon next time.

A word to the wise, while this IS a fruit bread, it isn’t a soft, fluffy, sweet bread, the way a cinnamon-raisin bread might be. You can see the recipe calls for only 2 Tablespoons of brown sugar. In the original recipe, the bananas (especially overripe bananas which is what I would normally use) provided a lot of sweetness and the 2 TBL were just enough to give the bread a boost. I liked the delicious mango flavor that carried through in this loaf, but I would adjust the recipe to add 2 more Tablespoons of brown sugar to make it more like the original banana recipe. This is still not enough to make it a “sweet bread” just closer to the original.

Also, this is a chewy loaf, provided by the heavier bread flour. We had thick slabs of bread with a bit of unsalted butter with breakfast, and it was onolicious. It’s also a great toasting bread, and makes a novel grilled cheese (try mozzarella or provolone) or grilled peanut butter sandwich.

I’d like to try this recipe again using plain flour (instead of bread flour) to get a lighter, airier loaf. If anyone does it before I do, I’d love to get your feedback on how it comes out. Until then,
Happy World Bread Day, Everyone! To see more wonderful bread recipes celebrating World Bread Day, visit our host, kochtopf.

(UPDATE: 11/11/07
Lavaterra made this bread too, and I liked how hers had lots more dried mango pieces, so I would recommend the maximum amount of dried mango, even up to double this amount *)

Double Mango Bread
Mis en place
In small bowl, mix together:
1 packet dry yeast
2/3 cup (150 ml) lukewarm water
1 Tbl. (15g) brown sugar

Dissolve yeast completely and leave for 5 minutes.


Sift together:
3 1/2 cups (500g) bread flour
1 tsp. (5g) sea salt
½ - 1 tsp. (3-6g) ground coriander
1 - 3 Tbl. (15-45g) brown sugar (depends on sweetness of mango, see notes bove)

Place in large bowl and make well in center. Once yeast is foaming, add to center of flour, and mix well.

Add
Fruit from 2-3 mangos (about 1/2 cup or 150g)
¼-½ cup (70g - 140g) chopped dried mango * (1/2-3/4 cup [140g-210g] dried mango)
and mix again.

Flour your work surface and turn dough out. Knead for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic. If dough is too sticky, sparingly sprinkle additional flour over dough, one tablespoonful at a time, incorporating well after each addition.

Shape dough and turn into loaf pan. Place in a clean plastic bag, “balloon” bag to trap air and tie off. Leave in a warm place until double in size.

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).

Mix together
2 Tbl. (30ml) milk
1 tsp water

Remove pan from bag. With pastry brush, gently glaze top of dough.

Bake for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 400°F (200°C). Bake another 15 minutes or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath. Transfer to cooling rack and cool completely before slicing.

See also
Mango-Stuffed French Bread and
Double Mango Wholewheat Quickbread

Doppelmango Brot: Das Rezept auf Deutsch? (With apologies to native German speakers, this translation was an exercise for me to practice reading and writing German)

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Anyone CAN cook!

"Anyone can cook!" is the light-hearted and joyous message echoing through movie theaters across the country in the new animated movie, "Ratatouille (rat-a-too-ee)" --- about a rat who loves to cook, in spite of himself.

If a rat can do it, you can too, right? Granted, Remy is a no odinary rodent -- his gourmet's palate can pair a found morel mushroom with a bit of discarded gruyere cheese, and when he is serendipitously struck by lightning -- voila! a gougere aux forestiere. And Remy can read cookbooks, too!

"Anyone CAN cook" is the philosophy behind
the Way of Cooking too. Bringing the Tao's flexibility to the kitchen usually means adapting ingredients and methods, as the Way of Cooking encourages us to do. Other times it may be a matter of changing our perspective on a perceived "problem."

I remember one summer when T and I were with his parents at their lakeside camp in north Maine and my mother-in-law (G) was preparing spaghetti bolognese for dinner. As we sat down, G mentioned that she had made a serious mistake while cooking, and that we might not be able to eat what she had prepared. She had mistaken the cinnamon bottle for another spice, and had added it to the sauce before she caught herself. If we couldn't bring ourselves to eat it, she said, she would understand and take no offense. When we tasted the sauce, however, we could detect only a hint of cinnamon in the perfectly seasoned sauce. I told G that the Greeks make a pasta with a cinnamon-laced meat sauce called pastitsio. She hadn't made a mistake, she had just made a different dish! (OK, it didn't have a bechamel topping, but let's call that a technicality).

So be easy on yourself and be open to new things --- and you may surprise even you! But most importantly, cook for and nourish yourself, and for and with the ones you love. Even in spite of yourself. In the climax of "Ratatouille," one of the characters takes a bite of the eponymous eggplant-and-zucchini dish and is transported back to a long-forgotten time when he felt loved and secure and cared-for. Food is so often connected to memories. Not only grand holiday and special occasion meals, but also baking pies with mom when your older brother and sister are at school, or watching dad make his secret spaghetti sauce. Cook often. Cook with and for the people you love. Just cook. Anyone can cook.

After watching Remy's movie twice this summer, I couldn't help but search out my favorite ratatouiile recipe and take advantage of Oahu's locally grown zucchini, eggplant, onions and tomatoes to make a more traditionally rustic version of this Provencal classic. This is a terrific meal for people who think they don't like vegetables. It is toothsome and filling, and easy to mistake the sauteed eggplant for meat. Best of all, the cold leftovers make a great sandwich on a toasted baguette or rolled up in a flour tortilla with a little shredded Mozarella.

There are as many versions of this vegetable entree as there are cooks, but I think the key is to saute the eggplant and zucchini separately and allow each vegetable to caramelize lightly. It brings an added depth of flavor that's missed when all the vegetables are added at the same time and simply simmered in sauce. But if you're pressed for time, better to forego the added step of frying the vegetables separately than to talk yourself out of trying this wonderful dish.

Ratatouille

RATATOUILLE
(adapted from a recipe from my alma mater, Leith's School of Food and Wine, London)

Serves 2

olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. long Japanese eggplant, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 1/2 lbs. small or medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. white pepper
1 1/2 lbs. Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1/4 cup julienned fresh basil
2 Tbl. minced fresh Italian parsley
sea salt to tate


Preheat large saute pan on medium heat. Add enough oil to coat bottom of pan, and add eggplant to cover pan (may have to do in batches). Lightly brown both sides and remove from heat. Add more oil and repeat with rest of eggplant. Repeat process with zucchini.

Lower heat and in the same pan cook onion until translucent (this may take 8-10 minutes). Add garlic and bell pepper after first 5 minutes. When onions are translucent, add coriander and white pepper and cook another 1 minute.

Raise heat to medium-high and add tomatoes, basil and parsley, and cook uncovered 10 minutes. Taste sauce and season with salt.

Add back eggplant and zucchini, cover and simmer 15-20 minutes or until vegetables are tender, but not falling apart.


A crispy, light baguette (on Oahu, St. Germain's demi-baguettes are the closest to the real thing we've found) and a nice pinot noir or syrah (depending on your tolerance for tannin) will round out your meal.

While we would absolutely love to pair this with a wine from France's Bourgogne or Rhone regions, we try to drink as close to home as possible. Since Hawaii doesn't (yet) have a robust home-grown viticulture, we look to West Coast and Australian wines to fill the bill for now.
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