Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cape-Cod Style Portuguese Kale Soup, farkashert

Aunt Birdie (my wife's mother's sister) was a force of nature. For those readers of this blog who didn't know her, she was the type of person who could tell an airport security guard to "take your f**king hands off my kinishes" and still get through security. She was also the type of person who could be found basting a brisket (or was it brushing a pie crust) stark naked in the kitchen, wearing only a bathing cap, when her teenage granddaughter walked in. She passed away just over two years ago and left a great void in the cosmos. Since I am blessed that all of my immediate relatives are alive, she is the person for whom I say Yiskor. She also was a wonderful, excessive cook, who thought vegetables were mostly irrelevant, that hard salami was low in calories because all the fat dripped out when you hung it up to dry, and that almost any dish could be fixed with a stick of butter. And she made wonderful kale soup, in style of the Portuguese of Cape Cod, and of course, it was full of treyf.

Last year when we were swamped with kale from our CSA I tried out this soup, using the dried kosher turkey sausages rather than linguica and chourico, the Portuguese-style sausages sold in much of coastal New England. (If Sarah is reading, I ask her to chime in as to whether or not I got the word "varkashert" right.) Not quite as good, but not bad either and well worth the effort. Here is the recipe:

Kale Soup

Ingredients
  • 4-6 ounces dried turkey kubano sausage, sliced (if small) or diced (if large)
  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1 or 2 bunches of kale, about 2-3 quarts washed well and cut into 1 inch shreds
  • 16 ounce can of kidney or cannellini beans, well rinsed, or about 1/3 pound cooked kidney or white beans (navy or cannellini) -- (see below)
  • 2 quarts liquid (chicken or vegetable broth, bean broth if you cook the beans fresh, or a combination, or use water with 1-2 bouillon cubes -- see below)
  • 1 medium turnip, peeled and diced, or about 1/2 to 1 cup tender young turnips, scrubbed and diced.
  • 1 large russet or yukon gold potato, diced (see below)

Method
  1. Saute the sausage in 1-3 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat in a 4-5 quart pot until brown and a bit crisp, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the onion and saute until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and saute another minute.
  4. Add the paprika and stir a few times.
  5. Add the kale, a very little salt, and black pepper, and stir well. Cover the pot and cook until wilted. You may need to add a bit of the liquid now to move this along.
  6. Add the beans and the liquid, bring to a boil, and simmer about 20 minutes.
  7. Add the turnip and potato and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
  8. Taste for salt and serve hot.
  9. This freezes well, but only if you leave out the potato. Add a finely diced potato when you reheat to serve and cook until tender.
On beans and life expectancy: This has nothing to due with the health benefits of beans, bur rather that I often debate to myself whether life is to short to cook your own beans (rather than using them from a can), preserve your own lemons, or make your own chicken broth if you are just going to use it in a soup. I tend to cook my own beans, buy preserved lemons now that a number of brands are available (no, they are not as good, but they are easy), and save the home-made broths for when they are served by themselves and not one of many ingredients in a thick soup. However, there are times when I just reach for a can of beans. But cooking your own is easy, and the results are superior, and you do get the bean broth, whereas the liquid in the bean can is one of the most disgusting substances known to humankind (with the possible exception of black beans). You can also freeze beans that have been soaked but not cooked, as well as cooked beans. However, you have to be able to tell the difference. When I made this soup most recently, I reached for a bag of beans in the freezer which I though was labeled pre-soaked. Not being able to read my own handwriting (this will come as no surprise to those who have actually seen it) the bag must have said pre-cooked, because when I checked on them after 20 minutes of cooking, far less time than it should take, they had turned into a liquidy puree. So I just opened a can. By the way, for this soup, red kidney beans are the classic, but it is just fine with white beans, which is what I had in the house.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Balado buncis-- Indonesian green beans in red pepper sauce.

Harry left for camp this Sunday morning. Because he graduated on Thursday, he couldn't go up with the other counselors on Monday for orientation, so he went up on the campers bus and was the counselor in charge. We brought him to the bus stop and it was fun to see him in action, and even more fun to overhear them say that they were glad he was the bus counselor and that he really knew what he was doing. Our Harry!? Who seems to avoid at all costs any conversation with an adult that he doesn't know!? You never know!

Anyway, since this was his last Friday night dinner at home for a while, he got to choose much of the menu. For the main dish he chose an Indonesian beef stew with sweet soy sauce and spices. That was really all he cared about, but he did veto cauliflower as a vegetable and gave us permission to make this green bean dish. White rice instead of brown. He picked at the raw cukes in the gado-gado and left the rest and the sauce alone.

The green bean dish is easy and the sauce is highly adaptable. The name means something cooked in a sambal, an Indonesian spice paste. Balado is short for sambalado. I first had it on eggplant at the Indonesian embassy to the UN when their cafeteria was still open to the public. James Oseland, in his wonderful Indonesian/Malaysian cookbook, The Cradle of Flavor has a dish with this red sauce on fried potato cubes. I am sure that it is delicious, but he uses 10 fresh hot red peppers in his sauce. I like spicy food, but in my version, I use a puree of sweet red peppers, shallots, garlic and a single green serrano chili, and it was plenty hot for for Harry:

Balado buncis

Ingredients
  • 1 pound greed beans, trimmed
  • 1 fleshy sweet red pepper, cleaned and diced
  • 2 large shallots, coarsely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1-3 hot peppers, sliced (see below)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • salty seasoning: Bragg's amino, light soy sauce, or, if you swing that way, terasi, belanchan or shrimp paste (see below for discussion and quantities)
  • salt
  • 1-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Method
  1. Puree the sweet red pepper, shallots, garlic, hot peppers , tomato paste and salty seasoning (unless using the shrimp paste) in a blender or mini-processor.
  2. Heat oil on high in a nonstick skillet, or in an impeccably seasoned wok. When it is hot and almost smoking, (add about 1/2 teaspoon of shrimp paste if you are using it, cook a few seconds, and then )add the puree, with your face far away, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it reduces a bit and looses its raw smell, about 3 minutes, or more, depending on the water content of the sweet pepper.
  3. Add the green beans and stir and fry until done to your taste, for 5-10 minutes. I like them with a little bite, but no longer super crisp. If you are in a hurry, you can cover the pan and the steam will speed the cooking. If the paste reduces too much and starts to scorch, add water. Add a bit more salt if needed.
  4. That's it. I told you it was easy.
The salty seasoning: The aim in this dish is not only to add salt, but to add some of the flavor called umami, a Japanese term for protein richness. Think meat broth, soy sauce, good Parmesan cheese, sauteed mushrooms. Or think stinky fermented seafood. Classically, in Indonesia, this would be made with terasi, a dried fermented shrimp paste known as belanchan in Malaysia. It is sold in small, paper wrapped blocks in many Chinese and all Southeast Asian groceries. If you cook with treyf, I would use this. It is a bit of a pain to prepare. Take a thin slice off a the block put it in aluminum foil, and broil it or cook it in a skillet until it starts to stink up your kitchen. Then crumble it in with the other sauce ingredients when you puree them. The undried fermented shrimp paste is sold in jars and used in Chinese and Thai cooking. Fry this briefly before adding the other puree ingredients. Although it smells as revolting as the terasi, both will disappear into the other ingredients, leaving a rich umami flavor behind. I use Bragg's aminos, which I find gives the dish the umami richness without the treyf, and has much more character than most soy sauces. A teaspoon or two of either should be fine.

The hot peppers: Why is it so difficult to find red hot peppers of any variety in NYC supermarkets, and even in Indian groceries? I have not made the trek to Chinatown in a while, but you can often find them there. Ideally, this dish should be made with the long thin red peppers, sometimes called Holland or cayenne peppers. Use whatever chili is available, even a green one, and the dish will be fine. I would prefer serrano to jalapeno if you have the choice. Just be aware that the heat level can vary, and be sensitive to the tolerance of your audience. If making the dish for prepubescent children I would probably leave it out altogether.

Other vegetables: Try the sauce mixed into diced roasted potatoes, or with the microwave cooked eggplant I posted about earlier this month. Take a regular quartered and sliced eggplant, or a pound of the long thing ones sliced, and zap covered with a lid or microwave wrap for 4 minutes. Add the sauce, cooked on the stove, and zap 4 minutes more, covered with paper towel.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ramen (Israeli-Chinese) Salad

I thought that everyone, or at least every Jew, knew of this salad. We had it 7 or 8 years ago for the first time, prepared by our friend Susan, who is married to an Israeli (Jewish may be a stretch), and then a few weeks later by Anat, who is Israeli. And then everyone seemed to be serving it. But recently, we were eating dinner with some other friends (Jewish, mostly vegetarian) who we would have expected to know about this dish but they had never heard of it. So I am posting it here as a public service, because it is easy and good and a salad that should be in everyone's repertoire.

The salad has lots of variations, but is basically a spinach or bok choy salad (napa cabbage may also be used), garnished with toasted ramen noodles, almonds and sesame seeds, and served with a soy vinaigrette. We call it Israeli Chinese salad because it is most freqently served to us by people with strong Israeli connections, but most other people call it ramen salad. There are lots of variations, and all are easy and good.

Ramen Salad

Ingredients
  • 2 quarts or so of greens (spinach, bok choy, and/or napa cabbage -- see below), washed and dried well
  • 1/4-1/2 cup slivered blanched almonds
  • 1 package ramen noodles
  • 1/4-1/2 cup roasted sesame seeds (you can roast these yourself but it is easier to buy them pre roasted)
  • dressing: 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1-2 tablespoons soy sauce, (see below)

Method
  1. Unless using baby spinach, shred the greens into 1-inch pieces and put into a salad bowl.
  2. Toast the almonds until light brown on medium heat in a dry skillet or in a little oil. Watch them carefully so that they don't burn. Set aside.
  3. Crumble the noodles. To toast them, either put them on a foil lined baking dish, spray well with Pam or another oil spray, and bake in a 350 degree oven until brown. Watch them carefully so they don't burn. Alternatively, saute them in some oil until light brown.
  4. After the noodles and nuts cool, toss the greens with the ramen, almonds, and sesame seeds.
  5. Whisk together the dressing ingredients, pour over the salad, and toss.
  6. Serve before the ramen get soggy.

The greens: While most people make it with only one type of green, our favorite is with a mixture of bok choy and spinach. While prepackaged and prewashed spinach makes this dish very easy to pull off on a weeknight, the fresh stuff is really better, but you do have to wash it carefully. Just running water over it won't do it, because it only seems to trap sand in the crevices. Swish the spinach around in a tub or sink of water, lift it out, drain out the water and rinse out any sand at the bottom, and repeat until there is no sand. Dry in a salad spinner, and if you have time, wrap in paper or cloth towels and leave in the refrigerator a while to absorb excess moisture. (You can do this the night before if you can think that far in advance.)

The dressing: There is no need to follow the proportions religiously. The saltiness of soy sauce and the sourness of vinegars varies widely, so I think your best bet is to whisk up some dressing, dip a leaf in to taste it, and then play with it until it suits you. Generally, salad dressings taste better with more oil, but people hold back for health reasons, so do what makes you and your guests feel comfortable and virtuous. You can add a bit of roasted oriental sesame oil to the olive oil (1 or 2 teaspoons), but not too much or it will dominate the salad. You can also substitute almond oil for the olive oil if you happen to have any around. One of my favorite variations, which accentuates the almond flavor, is to start the dressing with a tablespoon or a bit more of almond butter, whisk in the oil (as if you were making a mustard vinaigrette), and then add the other ingredients. This results in a slightly creamy dressing. You can use all balsamic vinegar, or mix it with sherry or rice wine vinegar. Depending on your taste and the acidity of the vinegar, you can also add a teaspoon or two of regular or date honey. You can also cut down on the soy sauce a bit and use some Bragg's aminos. While this product may sound unappealing it tastes like a rich, aged soy sauce and is worth getting to know better.

Fruit? I have had this salad with diced mango, not overripe, and it is very nice. You might also try it with a few strawberries tossed in.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Spinach with eggs

It is CSA (community supported agriculture) season, and we find ourselves eating a lot of vegetables with eggs. Sorry to sound like an advertisement, but there really is nothing like very fresh veggies cooked with farm fresh eggs. Today for breakfast, it was spinach with eggs: more spinach than eggs, and very tasty and easy. The hardest thing about it is washing the spinach, but worth it since good fresh spinach is some much better than the bagged prewashed stuff. See notes below on spinach, washing etc.

Spinach with eggs

Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium-large finely diced shallot
  • salt and pepper
  • 3/4 pound spinach, large stems removed, washed well, and cut into shreds
  • nutmeg
  • 4-6 eggs, the fresher the better
  • large handful of grated grana padano cheese (about 1/2 cup or more to taste, see note below)

Method
  1. Melt butter in a very large nonstick skillet. ( The spinach may shrink, but it takes up a lot of room at first. ) Add shallot, sprinkle with salt, and saute until soft but not brown.
  2. Add the spinach and cook over high heat until wilted and most of the liquid is evaporated.
  3. Season with pepper and a few scrapings of nutmeg.
  4. Beat the eggs until well combined, and add a pinch of salt.
  5. Add to the spinach, and cook over medium heat until done to your liking. Mix in the cheese and serve warm.
  6. That's it. Serves 2-4 depending on the number of eggs and your appetite.
Grana padano!?: This runs about $2-3 dollars a pound less than good Parmesan, and I always looked down my nose at it as a low quality knockoff. However, eating at the Savoy in Soho, the waitress informed us that their chef has been experimenting with using Grana instead, and has even come to prefer it. So a few weeks ago I started buying Grana, and it is quite good, with a nutty, caramelized aroma. Besides, the savings helps when my daughter, the cheese wizard, is at home. I think she can go through 2 pounds of Parmesan or more a week, but likes the Grana well enough, and this adds up to significant savings. But, today she just informed me that she doesn't find it as nutty. It was nice while it lasted.

Spinach: There is no question that the pre-washed bagged spinach is convenient, and if you want to use it for this dish, go ahead. I have made it before myself with the baby leaves straight out of the bag. But the real thing is much tastier, and not that much more effort. They key to washing spinach and other greens is not to run water over them, which doesn't do much good since it just leave the grit trapped in the crevices, but to soak the greens in a large bowl, tub or sink of water and swish them around and leave them sit a bit. Lift them out of the water, drain and rinse your receptacle, and continue until there is no more dirt. This year, the farmer at our CSA seems to be doing something so that the greens and veggies are cleaner and take less time to wash. This is a relief, because washing our share was almost a part time job. (Interestingly, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago about the spread of supermarkets in India, and how one obstacle was the tendency of the markets to wash their vegetables, while the consumers considered the dirt a sign that they were farm fresh!)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Southern Indian Eggplant with Peanut Sauce (and getting even with your family by blogging)

"Bland." My daughter's comment. Everyone nods.

That was the general sense around the table about the moong dal that I made for dinner. (Boiled with diced radishes and broccoli stems, with a tadka of cumin seeds and lots of garlic. The adjective that I would have used would have been "delicate.")

"It's just that the dal you made last week was so spectacular. What happened?" My wife's comment. (Last week was a sambar with plenty of sambar powder, tamarind, and a tadka of mustard seeds, ginger, green chili, hing and urad and chana dal. Of course it had more flavor.)

Harry said "it is kind of bland, dad."

I even asked Andrew, Maya's boyfriend who is staying with us, what he thought of the dinner he said "I have to admit, the dal was kind of bland."

One of the nice things about blogging is that it gives us lay people a taste of what life must be like for real writers. That is, when they get peeved, they can take it out, in writing, on family and friends and even enemies. So after dinner tonight, I told everyone that I was going to blog about it, so I am.

My daughter (the family vegetarian) had some kind of stomach virus a few days ago, but she knew I was making vegetarian Indian food this evening and she said "You know, I'm not feeling 100%, can you make it on the bland side." I had already put plenty of cayenne in the eggplant, so I toned down the dal and the green beans. The beans are not usually spicy, and, ok, the moong dal wasn't spectacular, but it was good, inexpensive, healthy protein. And I am sure that it did her digestive system no violence.

However, I did also make an eggplant dish that I have had in a number of Indian restaurants over the years, first and best in Deva's in Connaught Place in New Delhi, and and it was definitely not bland. At least my wife appreciated it. Usually it is made with the small eggplants and I didn't see any in the market, so I cut up a big one. I adapted the method from Julie Sahni's cookbook Moghul Microwave. Over the years, I have found that many of the recipes in the book actually do better on the stove than in the zapper, but a few, especially eggplant (you can cook it to tenderness without having it break up), okra (when cooked uncovered with some acid it looses its sliminess), and some basmati rice pilafs (slow absorption of liquid by the starch, I think) are made for the microwave. Here is my recipe:

Southern Indian Eggplant with Peanut Sauce

Ingredients
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 2-4 tablespoons light sesame oil (i.e. not the dark East Asian kind)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4- 2 teaspoons cayenne, to taste
  • 1/4 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
  • 1/2 of a can of coconut milk (I used light and it was fine
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind paste (if using concentrate, try 1/2 teaspoon mixed with 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon urad dal
  • 1 teaspoon chana dal
  • 1/4 teaspoon hing (asafoetida)
  • 10-15 curry leaves, if available
  • 1 or more thinly sliced green chilies
  • 1 inch piece peeled ginger, chopped fine

Method
  1. Slice the eggplant in quarters lengthwise, and then cut into 1/2 inch slices.
  2. Mix together the cumin, paprika, salt, turmeric and cayenne.
  3. Toss eggplant with 1 tablespoon of oil, or spray with vegetable oil spray, and then sprinkle with the mixed spices and toss to coat.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a microwave safe casserole in the microwave on high for two minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven and put in the eggplant and spices and toss with the hot oil. Cover, return to the microwave, and cook on high for 4 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, grind the peanuts to a powder in a spice grinder, blender, or mini chopper -- don't make it into a paste. Mix with the coconut milk and tamarind.
  7. Remove the eggplant, add the liquid mixture, cover, return to the microwave and cook on high for 4 more minutes or until tender.
  8. Make the tadka: Heat the remaining oil in a small skillet. When hot, add the mustard seeds, and when they pop, add the urad and chana dal. Cook until the urad dal just begins to brown.
  9. Add the hing, cook a few seconds, and add the chili and ginger. Cook a minute and then pour the mixture on top of the eggplant and serve.

An easier version: Skip the tadka and just garnish with chopped peanuts, roasted sesame seeds, and chopped coriander. But the tadka is really nice.

Variations: You can do lots with eggplant this way. Sahni just cooks onions with the eggplant and spices from the beginning, and then adds tamarind. Almost any sauce will do. I make a distant cousin of "balado terong," or Indonesian eggplant in a sambal, a red chili sauce. Make the chili sauce by pureeing a sweet red pepper, some hot fresh red peppers (keep the seeds in for heat, unless your daughter tells you to make it "bland"-- green will do in a pinch), a few shallots and a few cloves of garlic. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet and cook it down a bit until it no longer smells raw. Cook eggplant as above, but without the spices, for 4 minutes, add the sauce and cook 4 minutes more. Play around with this. Just don't make it bland.