Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mushrooms with cashews and tomatoes

I met Navnita when she was working as a consultant on a research project in my old institution.  She teaches political science and international relations at University of Delhi, has a fine critical mind, and is a pleasure to work with.  She is also quite a good cook.  She prepared this dish for my family and me when we visited with her family when they were based in Washington DC when she was a fellow at Brookings. I was particularly struck by how well she got along with my mother, the two having at least on the surface so little in common. They seemed to bond over the experience of being the children of refugees, Neeta of parents who left the Punjab during partition, my mother of emigrants from the Pale fleeing anti-Semitism. And, as my mother said after we left "Neeta is not a stupid girl."  (This is a Bronx way of giving a compliment.)

Anyway,  this dish stuck in my mind, perhaps because it was also relatively easy to reproduce.  Although you could use roasted cashews and vegetable oil, I think the raw cashews really make a difference here.  It is one of those dishes where quantities are not that important, and you can adjust to your taste.  Is is possible to put too many cashews in?  Certainly not, but I usually hold myself to about 1/4 cup:

Mushrooms with cashews and tomatoes:

  • 1-3 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil (corn for flavor, canola for health)
  • 1/4 cup whole raw cashews (roasted if you can't find)
  • 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon whole cumin seed, depending on taste
  • 1/2 cup sliced scallions (white and light green parts only)
  • 1-2 slice green chili peppers (if you can find any, add a 1 or 2 whole dried red ones after the cumin)
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes, drained of juice (in season, use 1 cup halved fresh cherry tomatoes;  you could also use del Valle canned cherry tomatoes)
  • salt to taste
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, whole if small, otherwise cut in halves or quarters (for washing, see below)
  • 1/4 teaspoons garam masala (if you absolutely can't find or make this, substitute whole cumin, roasted lightly and ground, or even ground black pepper)
  1. Fry the cashews in the ghee in a large skillet on medium heat until browned but not burned.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  2. Add cumin seeds and cook on high for about 30 seconds until they turn a shade darker.  If you are using whole dried pepppers, add  once the cumin darkens. 
  3. Add scallions, salt lightly,  turn heat up to high and saute about 3 minutes until soft. Add the sliced green chilis and cook about 30 seconds.
  4. Add turmeric, stir in, and add tomatoes.  Cook on high heat until the liquid evaporates.
  5. Add mushrooms, more salt if desired, and cook on high heat until they give off their liquid and it evaporates.  The amount of time this takes will depend on the heat and the size of your skillet, but should take around 10 minutes.
  6. Sprinkle with garam masala and serve. 
Washing mushrooms:  Life is defintely too short to wipe each mushroom individually with a damp paper towel to clean them, especially if you are clearing more that 4 mushrooms.  Here is what I do:  Dump the mushrooms into a large mixing bowl that will hold them and then some.  Fill the bowl with water, swish the mushrooms around for a few seconds, and then scoop them out into a colander to drain.  Most of the dirt and grit will be left in the water.  Dump it out, rinse the bowl, and repeat.  The mushrooms should now be clean.  Any of the few that still have any grit or dirt remained may now be wiped individually.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Soft scrambled eggs with feta, pine nuts and roasted broccoli

We had this dish at Barleyswine when we visited Austin last month. As is evident from the name, the chefs have a passion for beer and pork, but there is lots of other stuff to eat, and to drink as well. This dish was one of our favorites. Soft scrambling eggs slowly takes a little more effort than cooking them fast on high heat, but every once in a while it is worth it. They should be cooked with plenty of fat and are remind me of the bad old days when people thought that eggs were bad for you. This is a great brunch or supper dish and can be a nice main dish on Pesach during the week for those who feel that they aren't eating enough eggs.

The quantity below serves two, and it can be doubled or tripled in a larger pan. The keys to the success are almost constant stirring, low heat, and  making sure that all the toppings, the serving dish and plates are warm before combining and serving so that the eggs don't cool off.

Soft-scrambled eggs with feta, pine nuts, and roasted broccoli

  • Small head broccoli stem peeled and separated into long florets
  • Olive oil or olive oil spray
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper (ideally freshly ground white pepper, but black will do)
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts roasted lightly in a dry skillet
  • 2 ounces feta cheese, diced
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Beat eggs well in a bowl. Beat in cream and season with salt and pepper and leave at room temperature.
  3. Toss the broccoli with oil or spray it (why would you spray it when you are already using so much saturated fat?), put on a baking pan, sprinkle with coarse salt, and bake for 10 minutes.
  4. Broil until brown and slightly charred but not burnt, about another 5 minutes.. Set aside in a warm place.
  5. Heat butter on low heat in a medium nonstick skillet until melted.
  6. Add the beaten eggs and cook on low heat, stirring constantly. One you get the hang of holding them, two pairs of chopsticks work perfectly for this, breaking up the curds into small pieces. If you don't trust me on the chopsticks, you can use a whisk instead, a regular whisk with a conventional skillet or a plastic one in nonstick.
  7. Meanwhile, set oven on the lowest setting, and put in  your serving plates, feta,  nuts and sour cream in separate heat-proof dishes.
  8. Keep stirring the eggs, moving them around the skillet so they don't stick. The texture should be similar to that of a soft risotto.
  9. When still very soft and slightly runny, mix in the sour cream and half of the pine nuts and feta.
  10. Turn the eggs into the serving dish, and top with the remaining feta and then the pine nuts. Arrange the broccoli around the eggs, sticking the base of the florets under the eggs. If you have an extra floret, stick it in the center of the dish.  Next time I make this I will include a picture to this posting.
  11. Serve immediately to two on warmed plates. Great with fresh baguette, whole grain toast, or matzah.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Eggplant with tomato-miso sauce

Last weekend Mark Bittman had a wonderful article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine on non-traditional uses for miso. He went so far as to call it the Parmesan cheese of the new century.  He is not far off.  Some of the most flavorful foods that we use, those richest in umami, or a meaty flavor, are based on broken down (or less euphemistically, spoiled) proteins. Cheeses, cured meat, dried or fermented fish, soy sauce, fermented bean sauces -- all are produced by ccontrolled spoilage that preserves food by fostering the growth of helpful microorganisms that keep out the dangerous ones.  In the process, they break down the proteins and set lots of amino acids free, contributing to the flavor level in the dish. Don't trust me on the science, but trust me on the taste.

I have been toying around with the combination of Asian and Western flavors recently, each of which takes a very different approach to food preservation.  (Think of the difference between cheese, fish sauce, and miso.)  I was making a potato and cheese gratin for a vegetarian Shabbat dinner, and wanted something to go with it that would be interesting and bring some acidity and depth of flavor to the meal, but which wouldn't be garlicky.  Inspired partly by Bittman, I came up with this. The sauce is extremely simple, and the tomato/miso/butter has both an umami hit and a surprising level of creaminess, given that it has no cream and not too much butter. It tastes almost as if it were made with both cream and anchovies, or at perhaps some Parmesan, though it uses none of the above. Try this and play around with it, using different herbs and different kinds of miso.

Eggplant with tomato-miso sauce

  • large, firm purple eggplant
  • olive oil or olive oil spray
  • 1 tablespoon sweet butter
  • 3 shallots, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons miso (I used sweet white miso -- experiment, and the results will be different but still delicious)
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme (or a large pinch dried)
  • 15 ounce can tomatoes (I used del Valle cherry tomatoes, you could try another variety; in season 1 pint of fresh halved cherry tomatoes would be preferred)
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • small handful chopped fresh parsley
  1. Quarter the eggplant lengthwise and cut each quarter into 1 inch chunks.
  2. Oil or spray a flat baking dish.  Either toss the eggplant pieces with a bit of oil, or place them on the dish skin side down and spray them with oil.
  3. Broil on high about 5 inches from the flame for about 10 minutes, or until brown but not blackened.  Turn off the broiler, turn oven to 425 degrees, and roast for 15 minutes or until tender.
  4. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet.  Add the shallots and saute on medium high  until soft but not brown, about 3 minutes.  Add the thyme and give a few stirs.
  5. Turn the heat down, add the miso, and stir to combine with the shallots and butter.
  6. Add the tomatoes and bring to the boil.  Squish the tomatoes if you don't like them whole.  Cook on high for about 10 minutes.
  7. Add eggplant and cook for another 10 minutes on very low heat to meld flavors.  Make sure the eggplant is tender.
  8. Makes 4 generous side dish servings.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Chicken cacciatore with a whiff of Asia

"Do you want the chicken Italian or Indonesian tonight?"
So, I tried to do both. I was going to make an Indonesian-Chinese chicken stew with a garlic and yellow bean sauce. I eliminated out the other Asian flavors, but kept the bean sauce, which disappeared into the background but added some umami depth to the dish. I would also have put in some porcini mushrooms but we had none So I used dried shitakes. My only mistake was that I should have used more.
"This doesn't taste Asian at all.  Not one bit."
Here is the dish. Try it and decide for yourself. Leave out the bean sauce if you must, but you will be missing something.

Chicken cacciatore with a whiff of Asia

  • 8-16 dried shitake mushrooms
  • 2 medium onions, chopped fine
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons yellow bean sauce (tauco, see below)
  • 8 chicken thighs, skinned
  • 1/2 pound fresh cremini mushrooms  washed and sliced(or omit and use more shitakes)
  • 2-3 chopped canned tomatoes (about 1/2 cup)
  • large pinch ground rosemary
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 teaspoon-1 tablespoon soy sauce or Bragg's aminos (depending on saltiness of tauco)
  1. Soak the shitakes in boiling water to cover for about 1/2 hour while you proceed with the rest of the recipe. (You can also zap them for a minute in a covered dish in the microwave, but I find they soften more evenly using conventional soaking.)
  2. Saute the onion in olive oil on high in a large nonstick skillet until just starting to brown.
  3. Meanwhile, pound the tauco and garlic to a paste. This is most easily done in a mortar and pestle.  However, they can also be smashed together with the side of a knife.
  4. Add the paste to the skillet and saute for a few minutes until the garlic no longer smells raw.
  5. Add the chicken thighs, and stir fry them until they have browned a bit.
  6. Add remaining ingredients except mushrooms and their liquid.
  7. Drain mushrooms reserving the liquid, rinse, remove the hard woody stem, slice and add to the stew.
  8. Strain the liquid through a sieve lined with a coffee filter or paper towel, and add to the stew.
  9. Partly cover, bring to a simmer, can cook on low for 1/2 hour to 40 minutes until done, turning once.
  10. For a thicker sauce, remove the chicken to a serving dish and boil down the liquid until thick, and pour over the chicken.
  11. Serve with rice, pasta or best of all, polenta (see below).
Why thighs?  They are the best cut for stew.  The meat to bone ration is relatively high and the shape is compact, so they take up less valuable pan real estate.  The skin adds nothing other than fat and is rather unappetizing when stewed.  It is easy to slip off and you can sometimes buy them already skinned.  Thighs are also very forgiving.  Something about the musculature makes them very difficult to overcook. Use a whole chicken if you must.

Tauco?  This is a whole yellow (actually light brown) bean sauce popular in Southeast Asia.  I used Yeo's.  It is generally pounded to a miso-like paste, but also good with the beans left whole.

What about the polenta?  Here you have two choices.  You can use firm polenta cut into slices and browned in a skillet or under the broiler.  The precooked logs from the supermarket are actually fine here.  I often like like softer polenta, and have recently discovered an ultra easy method.  It takes an hour or a little more, so put this up before you do anything else and it should be ready when the rest of dinner is. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Take 1 cup of medium or coarse yellow corn meal and mix it with 4 cups of water and a about  teaspoon of salt in a 2 quart or larger ovenproof casserole. Put it in the oven and leave it for an hour, stirring after 45 minutes.  If it is still too soft, cook 10 minutes longer.  This keeps well for a while in a turned off oven.