Monday, June 25, 2012

Eggs in coconut-cashew sauce

This dish uses a cashew chutney from Kerala that would taste good on floor tiles.   The chutney is based one in Yamuna Devi's Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking, a wonderful but rather idiosyncratic cookbook.  It is not just vegetarian, but Vaishnava (followers of the Hindu god Vishnu), and avoids onions, garlic and mushrooms for a variety of reasons that I am too lazy to get into at the moment.  I also find a number of  weird undercurrents  in terms of the guru-disciple relationship and Hindu nationalism.  But perhaps I am too sensitive.  It is a great cookbook, with hundreds of recipes and lovely line drawings,  and you can just add onions and garlic wherever they seem to fit.

Over the years I have put this cashew chutney to a number of uses including many of which Yamuma Devi would certainly not approve.  It  is an excellent condiment for an Indian meal, a great dip for raw vegetables, and a versatile sauce starter for sauteed vegetables, fish, chicken and even hard-boiled eggs.  I developed the last dish to round out a meal of leftovers from a vegetarian Indian meal that we had a few days earlier.  It is a cinch, and quite delicious an is similar to a number of Indian dishes based on hard-boiled eggs in a creamy, spicy sauce. The recipe for the chutney comes first, and then the eggs.  I will write up a few variations in the coming weeks, all of which follow the same principles.

For the cashew chutney

  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and diced
  • 1-2 small green hot chili peppers, sliced,  with seeds if you want a kick (I used Serranos)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped coriander leaves and some of the stems
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4-2/3 cup water
  1. Put the cashew in a mini-chopper and grind to a coarse powder.
  2. Add ginger, chili and lime juice and process until pulverized.
  3. Add salt and coriander, and process until ground.
  4. With the motor running, slowly dribble in the water.  Use as little as possible until the mixture becomes a smooth paste.
Eggs in coconut-cashew sauce

  • 1 teaspoon-2 tablespoons oil (coconut or light sesame oil for authenticity, though I use canola for health)
  • 1/2 tablespoon black mustard seeds
  • 20 fresh curry leaves rinsed and dried (optional, if available)
  • 2 shallots, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 of the above recipe of cashew chutney
  • 14 ounce can coconut milk (I used light and it was fine)
  • 8 hard boiled eggs, peeled and halved
  • Salt to taste
  • Heat the oil in a medium skillet until hot (lower heat is needed if you are using the coconut oil. Add the mustard seeds and cook until they begin to pop.
  • Add the curry leaves if using and give them a few stirs.  Add the shallots and saute until soft, about 3 minutes.
  • Add the chutney, the the heat down to medium low and saute, stirring ocassionally, until it looses its raw aroma.  This should take 2-3 minutes.
  • Stir in the coconut milk until well incorporated, and simmer for a few minutes until you have a smooth sauce.  (I think the lite coconut milk actually works better than the full fat, since it will not break up as easily because of all the vile stabilizers that it contains.  If you use regular coconut milk, be very careful not to let it boil.) 
  • Add the eggs, cut side up, spoon the sauce over them, and simmer on low for 3-5 minutes (depending on their starting temperature) to warm them through. Add additional salt if necessary.
  • Serves 4-6.  The gravy is excellent spooned over rice.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Thai chicken tofu burgers

As I have remarked in other posts, I am not a fan of ground poultry dishes, though I make and eat them for economy and health.  But I really like these burgers.   The tofu has the effect of both lightening the ground chicken and keeping it moist, and the Thai seasoning,  a traditional combination of white pepper, garlic, and coriander roots (Thai cuisine is one of the few that use the roots of this plant) lends the dish a deep savory flavor.  I make it with a pound and a half of ground chicken because that seems to be the size of all the packages in the market.  This makes about 10 patties.  You can adjust the recipe proportionately to make more or less. This is based on a Japanese dish, and I will suggest some substitutions to make this at the end.  But if you can find coriander roots, do try it this way:

Thai chicken tofu burgers

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground chicken breast
  • 1 pound superfirm tofu (Nasoya markets this) or 1 1/2 pounds pressed extrafirm tofu (see below)
  • 1 cup panko crumbs
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon whole white peppercorns (you can substitute black but they will darken the dish)
  • 8-12 cloves of garlic
  • 1-2 tablespoons coriander roots (see below)
  • 1-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon Bragg's Aminos or light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon - 1 tablespoon  salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  1. If you do not have superfirm tofu, take extrafirm or firm tofu, wrap it in paper towels, put it in a dish with a rim. Weight it down for about a half hour.  I use a pot filled with water or a heavy Thai mortar.  Pour away the considerable water that exudes.
  2. Grate the tofu using the largest whole of a box food grater.  This will go fairly quickly and I don't think that it pays to dirty a food processor for this.
  3. Mix the chicken, tofu and panko crumbs in a large mixing bowl.  This is best done by hand (remove all rings, etc.) but us a large mixing spoon if you must.
  4. Roast the peppercorns in a hot skillet until they are aromatic and a few shades darker.  Put them in a mortar along with the smashed peeled garlic cloves.
  5. Prepare the coriander roots: cut them off the stems, and scrape off the hairlike small roots with your fingernails. You should be left with just the main white roots.  Chop these coarsely and measure them.  You should have between one and two tablespoons, which would be the yield of a large bunch of fresh coriander. (Don't get bent out of shape if you can't get enough roots, but this recipe should be incentive to start accumulating them whenever you have coriander.  Clean and freeze them until ready to use, and defrosted, they will be easier to pound in the mortar.) Add these to the mortar.
  6. Pound the peppercorns, garlic and coriander root to a paste.  Adding a teaspoon or so of coarse salt can help the process along.  You can also use a minichopper, but it has to be able to handle small amounts efficiently.
  7. Heat 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of the oil in a small skillet. Add the paste and cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, until the aroma changes, about 3 minutes.  Set the paste aside on a plate to cool for a few minutes, then add to the beaten egg and mix into the chicken. 
  8. Mix in the Bragg's or soy, the fresh coriander, the scallion, and more salt if you wish.
  9. Form into 10 patties about 1 inch thick.
  10. Spray a nonstick skillet with oil spray and heat on high.  Add 1 teaspoon to one tablespoon of oil.  After about 30 seconds, when the oil is very hot, add 4-5 patties.
  11. Cook the patties on one side for three minutes, the turn and cook on the other side on high for three minutes.
  12. Turn the heat down to medium low, cover the pan, and cook the patties for an additional 5 minutes on each side. If you don't have a cover that fits the skillet, just drape it with aluminum foil.
  13. Repeat with the remaining patties.
  14. These can be served hot or cold, on buns or rolls or without.  I happen to like them on a toasted roll smeared on one side with a mixture of dark miso, mayo and Sriracha, and on the other side with ketchup and a few slices of avocado.
Japanese style: omit the paste of coriander root, garlic and peppercorn, as well as the coriander leaves.  Grate a 2-inch piece of ginger and squeese the juice out in your hand directly into the chicken mixture.  Add about 1/2 teaspoon of Togarishi or other Japanese hot-pepper based spice mix if you would like.\

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cabbage salad with za'atar

This is an easier and tangier version of the Hungarian cabbage salad that I posted a while back.  I have altered the seasonings considerably.  Overall, I prefer this one, and it goes well with an Israeli omelet or simply grilled or pan-fried chicken cutlet  or tofu (with shawarma seasoning if you want) in pita of laffa bread with some hummus or tahini for a very easy meal.  It is also a good accompaniment to a Middle Eastern meal and makes a nice lunch with some feta. 

Cabbage salad with za'atar

  • 12 ounces to 1 pound of cabbage (1/2 of a smallish head)
  • Salt
  • Olive oil, about 1- 2 tablespoons, more if you aren't worried about calories
  • 1/4 cup finely sliced red onion or shallot
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots (more or less and optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • Pinch of sugar and of a a hot pepper (cayenne or Aleppo are nice, use more of the latter)
  • 1/2 tablespoon za'atar 
  1. Clean the cabbage by removing the outer leaves. I have heard that once you do this, the cabbage is so clean that tap water will only make it dirtier.Cut in quarters and remove the core.
  2. Shred very finely. You can use a mandoline if you have one. What I do is cut it into very thin shreds with a very sharp knife, starting at the top with the cut surface facing down. After several cut, given the way I hold the knife, there will be an overhand, so I rotate the cabbage so that the cut surface faces up and continue cutting it into fine shreds, almost slivers. You are almost scraping the cabbage, as if you were cutting shawarma or gyros off  the spit.  This doesn't take long and the cabbage seems to come out fine enough this way.
  3. Put the cabbage in a large bowl and salt lightly. Toss in the remaining ingredients.
  4. Weight down the salad: this softens it without blanching. Cover the top with some plastic wrap or wax paper, put a plate or pot cover on it, and weight it down with a heavy object. I use a Thai mortar. A large can would do as well. Leave it for as long as you want, but at least an hour.  Chill when it softened to your taste.
  5. Toss and taste for salt before you serve. This amount should serve 4 as a side dish.. 
  6. The cabbage  is best later the day you make it or the next day. It can be kept longer, but should not be considered a long-term asset.
Za'atar: Za'atar is an herb in the same family as thyme in oregano that grows wild in the Middle East.  It is also a spice mix containing this herb, sesame, sumac and some other seasonings.  Use the spice mix in this dish.  The precise mix will vary, but I tend to use Galil brand which is available at the local supermarket. You really won't go wrong with any of them.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Shad charmoulayit

Charmoula is a North African seasoning paste used for fish.  The version that I use most often is by Paula Wolfert and contains garlic, cilantro, parsely, paprika, cumin, olive oil and salt.  Typically, the fish is coated with the charmoula and  is cooked slowly  in a tagine, a kind of casserole, for a long time with vegetables and, if you are lucky, preserved lemons.  It is one of the world's great dishes, but it does take time.

This recipe is my own quick take on fish with charmoula.  I doubt that this is an authentic recipe. I also doubt that the word charmoulayit means anything in any language though it is my attempt at creating a Hebraicized  Arabic adjective.  Rather than cooking it long and slow I have used most of the charmoula seasonings in a very fast saute.  Shad is in season, ever so briefly, so I enjoy it while I can.  It is very rich but otherwise relatively mild, and though my wife claimed not to care for shad,  the spices cut through some of the richness quite nicely and she liked this.  (It is also cheap, only $9.99 per pound at Citarella's.)  I have also used  butter rather than olive oil and added capers and preserved lemon peel.   I left out the garlic since it can burn when cooked quicky on high heat, but you could add a clove or two.  Prep takes about five minutes, cooking another five. What could be bad?

This recipe serves two and you could double or triple it, but some things like shad are too good to share.

Shad charmoulayit
  • 12 ounces to 1 pound boned filet of shad
  • 1/2 teaspoon each sea salt, ground cumin, paprika and Aleppo pepper
  • Peel of 1/2 preserved lemon, pulp removed and shredded
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed.
  • Small handful chopped fresh coriander, well rinsed and chopped
  1. Cut the filet  in half crosswise to make it easier to turn.  Pick out any bones that remain if you can.  (If you can't, don't worry about it, they will come out much more easily onces the fish is cooked.)
  2. Rub both sides of the fish with the salt and spice mixture and set aside while you do the rest of the prep. 
  3. Spray a medium nonstick skillet with vegetable oil spray if you want, and the heat it on medium.  Add the butter and let it melt.  (If you want garlic, I would add two crushed cloved here and let them cook in the butter on low heat for a minute or two to season it, then remove.)
  4. Heat the skillet on high, and add the preserved lemon peel.  Cook for about a minute and add the fish, flesh side down.  Cook for two minutes.
  5. Flip the fish and add the capers and cilantro.  Cook for three minutes skin side down.
  6. If you don't trust me that the fish is done, test it with a fork or knife.  Transfer to plates with the juices and serve.  This goes very nicely with roasted fingerling potatoes, a crusty baguette, or toasted Turkish pide bread. A New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or a Sancerre are good wines to serve with this.