February 19, 2013 § 1 Comment
Let’s get right to the point with this one. Three base ingredients, about 5 minutes of active prep, and four beautiful words: raw banana ice cream. Maybe I’m late to this party, since a quick web search after I first came across a version of this recipe yields a lot of variations on the theme, but I don’t want to risk you being left out of the fun too. We’re taking ingredients that would commonly come up in crazy post-marathon-refueling shakes and making them into a fudgy, satisfying, and, yes, ok, healthy, dessert. Is it ice cream as you would know it? Well, no, but if you think of it as a sweet of its own kind, free from constricting comparisons, you are going to become an addict. Seriously.
How it works: you slice whatever number of bananas are lying on your countertop, ideally at the point of attracting flies, so ripe are they. You arrange the slices on a parchment-paper-topped baking sheet and slide it into the freezer for an hour. If, like me, you accidentally freeze the bananas for 2 hours, you leave them out for 10 minutes or so to soften slightly before proceeding to the next stage.
You take your frozen (but not over-frozen) banana pieces and tip them into the bowl of your food processor, or blender. You add almond butter and a bit of honey: some base proportions are given below. You pulse until the banana begins to break up, and then blitz until the mixture runs in smooth, cold, nutty ribbons.
You tip the whole mixture into a container to finish freezing (minus the several mouthfuls that you, as cook, are morally bound to taste at this point). When ready, you top with walnuts, cocoa nibs, chocolate shavings, or nothing at all. You do not feel guilty. You may feel slightly smug.
Raw Banana Ice Cream
3 ripe bananas
2 heaping tbsp. almond butter
1/2-1 tbsp. honey
If you have more bananas to hand, by all means double this recipe. You can play around with proportions too – I found the very ripe bananas sweet enough that little honey was required; you may prefer a sweeter mix. You could substitute other nut butters, like peanut, of course, but then we might not be able to be friends any more.
Slice the bananas into rounds of about 1/3rd inch thickness. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the banana coins on the sheet. Freeze for approximately one hour.
Add the frozen banana to the bowl of a food processor, or a blender. Add almond butter, and honey. Blend until smooth.
The mixture can be eaten immediately. If you prefer a firmer consistency, freeze for another couple of hours. The ice cream will keep in the freezer for a week or two (if you can leave it that long).
January 10, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The Olympic mountains, to the west of Seattle, catch the mid-afternoon glow. I’m in a cab speeding south, airport- and home-bound. The cloudy curtain lifts for the first time on this four day sojourn to reveal a postcard of a backdrop. The peaks are curiously flat and false, as though a tourist board or film crew had rolled them in just for that moment. Stay, they plead, propping up a Mount Rainier shaped scene ahead of us for maximum impact. But I’m ready to leave, stunning natural beauty and all; ready for home, for the new year to begin in earnest, and for soup.
Conference travel sometimes feels like an ever-changing set of backdrops in front of which I am supposed to act. Mostly it’s the one of the book exhibit, scene of jaw-cripplingly permanent smiles and nods and unparalleled enthusiasm. Don’t get me wrong: it’s the part of my job which I love the most: tossing around ideas, seeing work being tested out and refined, and then the excitement of a stack of a book hot-off-the-press getting the love and attention it deserves. But at the end of those long days I’m ready to unpin that identity along with my name badge. That’s when I head out to eat, alone.
Once you’re over the initial sheepishness of asking for a table for one that will almost inevitably be with you the first couple of times you do it, you might well be in for a dining alone treat. Solo diners are the stuff of which the dreams of maitre d’s are made: we slip into corners, pad out awkward gaps at bars, never sneer at the offer of the communal table. The reward? Walk ins at the hottest spots in town, gliding past open-mouthed lines of hipsters and foodies and the other dozens of people who thought a two hour wait for pizza was totally reasonable. Avec in Chicago, Mozza in LA, Walrus and the Carpenter in Seattle: a smug litany of solo successes. Nothing deserving of pity there.
When that craving for home hits, usually for me around the middle of the third day away, it’s rarely the aloneness that sets it off. It’s a yearning: for my own bed, for the small everyday things, and for cooking from my own kitchen. Such trifles: they are the intangible yet instantly recognizable sense of home. Soup is one such marker. Before I set off on this brief January trip I made a batch of a fridge-clearing soup. A soup of leeks and of celery, both of which have seen better days but which will be perfectly revived with a gentle saute in butter. To the pale green mix I add a handful of sunchokes – or Jerusalem artichokes as I would have known them from the UK had I ever eaten them there. The rhizomatic chokes bear a pleasing resemblance to the hefty lump of ginger that will later top the soup. And later was right – something about that day just didn’t call out for soup and I froze batches of the barely-green broth for a time when it would be better appreciated. Lunchtime today it is perfect. As the soup reheats, plopping languidly on the stove, I make a topping of crushed coriander seeds, pounded walnuts, and abundant matchsticks of the aforementioned ginger. I set my own table for one. The soup is mild with an almost fluffy texture: a duvet of a dish if ever there was one. The hot-water-bottle warmth of the ginger is just enough to enliven without disturbing the inherent calmness of the dish. Around me, pots overflow in the sink and three suitcases spill their contents into the hallway. There is nothing one-dimensional here.
Leek, Choke and Celery Soup
Adapted from my hero Nigel Slater’s Tender Vol 1 (link is to the combined US edition)
Yields about 4 servings
2-3 large leeks
40g/3 tbsp butter (or olive oil for a vegan version)
4 ribs of celery
400g/14oz sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes
1 litre/4 cups water
a good handful of parsley, chopped
Walnut and ginger topping
1 tsp coriander seeds
30g walnuts (about a quarter cup)
30g lump of ginger
4 tsp groundnut oil (if you don’t have this to hand use any neutral oil like sunflower)
Discard the very toughest of the outer leaves of the leeks and then slice the white and pale green flesh into thin circles. Leeks often come with quite a bit of grit between the layers so be sure to rinse them well before using. I leave them to soak for a couple of minutes, give them a stir with my hand, then rinse and repeat once more. Melt the butter over a low to medium heat and then cook the leeks in the butter for around 15-20 minutes, until they are very soft. Do not let them colour – you will need to stir frequently and keep a good eye on them.
While the leeks cook, finely slice the celery and add it to the pan once the leeks are soft. Stir and allow to cook along with the leeks while you peel and dice the chokes. Add those to the pan along with the leeks and celery, stir to coat and mix well, and then cover the pot with a lid and allow the vegetables to sweat and soften, still without colouring. Add the water to the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, partially cover the pan with a lid, and allow to bubble for about 25 minutes, or until the chokes are tender. Blend the soup with a hand blender or in batches in a blender or food processor. Keep warm while you make the topping, or cool and freeze portions at this point if you want to save some of the soup for another day.
When you are ready to eat the soup, make the topping. Grind the coriander to a powder with a pestle and mortar, then add the walnuts and give them a good pound, so they are broken and pulpy but not finely ground. Peel the ginger and slice into thin matchsticks. Heat the oil in a shallow pan, such as a saute pan, add the ginger and let it sizzle and fry for about 30 seconds, until it starts to brown and crisp. Add the walnuts and coriander, stir and let them sizzle briefly, then tip the mix onto kitchen paper to crisp.
Stir chopped parsley into the soup, ladle into bowls, then top each with a mound of the walnut and ginger mix.
January 6, 2012 § Leave a Comment
How quickly mice-sized tasks mutate into lumbering elephants. A couple of illness-laden weeks and a post about tortilla de champignones, meandering through memories in Barcelona on its way, loses its sharpness and appeal. Next up, a life- and perspective-changing ten days leads to a whirlwind of emotion, leaving no corner of life unturned in its wake, and suddenly every single word I toil to produce is both of critical importance and yet an insufficient trope. And then, the proverbial cherry on top is the unstoppable march towards Christmas. All too bright, and sharp, and distracting; with its experimental cookies, and the best carnitas cooked and eaten in a cabin in the woods, and the final unraveling of a cake so booze-soaked it practically levitated out of its wrapping of headily scented parchment onto the Christmas table.
Just when it feels like life may from here on out blur into one long faded decoration of over-eating jigsaw-assembling reality-avoidance, January asserts itself with more of a whimper than a pop but audible and ready to be heard all the same. And here we are: three months of half-finished, outdated posts, too much to tell, and where to start? And this, friends, is how a dormouse of a post about muesli, and new beginnings, seems to call on mammoth reserves.
In such sticky moments of doubt, I recommend heeding the wise words of that great thinker Maria von Trapp, and starting at the very beginning. Right now, in January, as we box up the tinsel for another year, hope and potential is in the air. Breakfast is the meal that most encapsulates this mood, setting the tone for what is to come. My love for breakfast is no secret and while reviewing the highlights of the past year with friends over an earl grey gin cocktail (or three) at the new year’s eve table, Ollie and I had one overlap: breakfasting in Sydney. Languid, easy mornings took on the shape of homemade, ricotta-topped crumpets, bowls of yoghurt-heavy muesli and avocado-smeared toast. We would pass the first several hours of each day observing, waking to the rhythm of the city, nourishing whatever state we found our jet-lagged bodies in that morning. On holiday or at home, those hours so often set the tone for what follows: eating on the run, squeezed by the straight-jacket of time, or taking a more compassionate pace and view of the day.
So on that Monday holiday just passed – the brief stay of execution before the “official” start of the year – I tossed hazelnuts, whole and brown-skinned, in oil and coarse salt and roasted them until their aroma penetrated all corners of the apartment. Halfway through, a sheet of oats joined them, the heat warming their winter pallor to a hue more suited to summer months, or (not to brag, ahem) a California January. In a large bowl: quinoa flakes, wheat germ, and handfuls of dried cherries and cranberries. The whole lot, when mixed, filled a quart mason jar perfectly. It sits on the counter as a beacon of the bright hopes of the days, months, year to come and a reminder that you can start afresh every day, not just the first of the year.
Cherry and Hazelnut Muesli
Adapted from the wonderful Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce
When ready, there are two ways to serve this muesli. One is to soak it overnight in milk or fruitjuice, which is the classic way to serve muesli. In the morning, just remove from the fridge and top with chopped fruits and a sprinkle of salt. Or you can treat it more like granola and just pour milk over the muesli straight from the jar. It will be crispier. Try both and see which you prefer. Either way, yoghurt and honey make excellent additional dressings.
1 cup hazelnuts, raw and whole, in their skins
1 tsp olive or hazelnut oil
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp wheat germ
1/4 cup quinoa flakes
1/3 cup dried cheries
1/3 cup dried cranberries
Heat the oven to 350F. Toss the hazelnuts with the oil and salt and spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or thereabouts, checking on them a couple of times and giving them a shake to redistribute for even browning. The nuts are ready when they are a dark brown, but not burnt. Set to one side and, when cool enough, chop roughly, keeping a few whole. You can include the skins in the muesli too.
Spread the oats on a separate baking sheet and add them to the oven for around 8-10 minutes, again stirring halfway through. The oats should turn a golden brown. Remove and allow to cool.
Mix all but 1 tbsp wheat germ and the quinoa flakes in a large bowl. Toss the cherries and cranberries in the remaining tablespoon of wheat germ to prevent them from sticking and chop them roughly. It’s fine for them to be uneven and to leave a few whole. Add to the bowl with the wheat germ and quinoa.
Add the hazelnuts and oats and mix well. Tip into a mason jar or similar and cover only when cool. The muesli will keep, well covered and stored in a cool dry place, for more than 2 weeks.
October 17, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I’ve been trying to delay gratification in more parts of my life. I long increasingly for the pleasures of anticipation that I associate with a childhood of piggy-banks, where the pound coins from the Friday pocket-money-handover, and the heptagonal fifty pences slipped on the side by grandparents, and grubby pennies from the street were all squirreled away for the proverbial rainy day. The end goals of such saving evolved over the years: the cabbage patch kid mutating into a ballet-pink-framed bike, into a ZX Spectrum, into a black chiffon-sheer blouse from Tammy Girl, and eventually into 34 hours on a coach to the north of Spain for ten gloriously parent-free days in the sun. The anticipation, though, was a constant: progress impatiently measured by the weight of the penny jar, counted in trips to the bank on a Saturday morning, culminating in a plastic wallet stuffed full of pleasingly large-numbered and colourful peseta notes.
The last time I saved so feverishly and specifically was for dinner at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck. It would have been hard to communicate to the 16-year-old on her way to the Costa Brava that ten years of time would see her putting aside about the same amount of money for an oyster served with headphones as for the entirety of that holiday, but the excitement would have been entirely familiar. I even had a literal piggy bank – a fat pig no less; an appropriate portent of the truffled pork that would form the peak of that dinner.
As I bring my fat pig out of retirement, I’m thinking about suitable new goals for the coppers swelling its plastic belly. One London restaurant that is already high on the wish list is Moro, in Exmouth Market. Although I’ve walked past it a dozen times or more, I’m holding out on walking through the doors for the time being. A particularly lovely author has promised to take me there as a celebration when he delivers a much-anticipated manuscript. In the meantime I’m saving mental pennies in the form of dishes from the recently acquired cookbook Moro East. This is the third tome to arise from the Moro founders, Sam and Sam Clark, and I think my favourite: inspired by the allotment they used to keep in Hackney it combines an imaginative use of vegetables with their signature Mediterranean style, and is spun through with an earthy but not preachy sense of home and community.
The first thing I make from the book is a dish for a literal rainy day: a pilaf of bulgar and cabbage, cooked with butter and spices, flecked with pine nuts and scallions, and served with a dollop of sumac-sprinkled yoghurt. It’s an unassuming, nourishing blend: not naturally showy but satisfying in its buttery homeliness. By all means, jazz it up by using it as a side dish for a piece of grilled fish, but if you take it at its humble face value you’ll find yourself with a grounding and affordable midweek supper, leaving you with more pennies for that piggy bank.
Cabbage and Bulgar Wheat Pilaf
Adapted from Moro East, by Sam and Sam Clark
Yields 3-4 servings
75g/4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, unsalted (*see note below for vegan version)
8 spring onions/scallions, sliced into rounds, including the green stems
50g/2oz pine nuts
1/2 tsp ground allspice
600g white cabbage (about 1 small-medium Savoy cabbage; other white cabbage would be fine)
200g/7oz coarse bulgar
300ml vegetable stock or water
2 tbsp sumac (optional if you can’t get hold of it: in the US try a Middle Eastern grocer; in the UK major supermarkets now stock this spice)
The leaves of 1 small bunch of parsley
Greek yoghurt to serve
*It would be easy to adapt this to be a vegan dish. Instead of using butter, try a combination of sunflower oil and walnut oil – about 3 tbsp sunflower and 1 tbsp walnut. You can simply omit the Greek yoghurt topping: the dish is quite delicious without it.
Begin by melting the butter in a medium saucepan or small dutch oven over a medium heat. When it starts to foam, add the scallions, pine nuts, allspice and a good pinch of salt and cook for 5 minutes, stirring a few times. Add the cabbage – it will appear that the pan is too full but in about 5 minutes it will have wilted enough to add the bulgar. After you have added the bulgar, add the stock to cover and season with salt and pepper. Lay a circle of greaseproof (parchment) paper on top and bring to a boil over a medium to high heat. Put a lid on the pan, on top of the paper, and cook quite fast for 5 minutes. Now reduce the heat to medium low and continue to cook for 5 minutes more. Stir in the sumac along with the parsley, remove from the heat and let the pilaf sit for 5 minutes.
Serve with a dollop of Greek yoghurt, seasoned with salt and crushed garlic if you like, and a sprinkle of sumac.
September 1, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I promised myself I would post here today. It’s been far too long and the recipe backlog is starting to get ridiculous. I have now about 15 minutes until I’m supposed to be in a bar downstairs and I’m not even wearing mascara. But I have three things on my side. One: I’m having one of those ridiculously productive days where you feel like you could conquer the world if only every day was like this. My immense to-do list is a sea of ticks and scribbles. I’m treading the thin line on the other side of which lies mania but for now it feels great. Two: this recipe needs little description. The pictures speak for themselves, and the ingredient list consists of just five simple items, as follows: walnuts, dates, cocoa powder, almonds, salt. These are brownies, but not as you know them: raw, vegan, healthy and utterly delicious. The assembly process (it would be a misnomer to say ‘cooking’ here) involves blitzing these things in the food processor and then pressing them into a dish and freezing before slicing and eating. If you’ve ever eaten a Larabar, they sort of have that kind of texture, but cakier and chocolatier. Three: I don’t need to write out the recipe here because Sarah at My New Roots, one of my new favourite food blogs, does such a fabulous job that I don’t need to make any additional comments or adjustments (for now – UK people I’m really sorry but I was so focused on getting some brownie into my detox life that I didn’t take weight measurements – great excuse to make these again of course and I’ll update the post with grams and ounces as soon as I do).
There you go. 5 minutes left for the mascara; tomorrow, the world.
July 13, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I’m a bit short on time for this post but that’s fine, since devoting a long treatise to a dish which has to be one of the fastest, tastiest dinners out there would just feel all wrong. When the Momofuku cookbook published last year, this recipe was released in advance as a promotional stunt and, boy, did it fly around the web like wildfire. The story goes that Momofuku’s self-styled enfant terrible chef, David Chang, created this recipe as an homage to a cheap and tasty NYC Chinatown noodle dish, adding a bit of flair with suggested additions including quick-pickled cucumbers, pan-roasted cauliflower or toasted nori. With or without additions it’s full on culinary crack: savory, warming, simple. If you have the sauce ready-made in your fridge you can literally get dinner on the table in 5 minutes. Make twice as much as you think you want, eat it for dinner, then crave it for lunch the next day. The internet probably doesn’t need yet another person to tell you how good this dish is, but since it’s also vegan and we ate it on a Tuesday, I’ll consider it my prerogative.
Ginger Scallion Noodles
Adapted from Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan
For readers outside of the US: I didn’t take weight measurements of the ingredients when I made this sauce (sorry; was too busy making the most of it being a quick supper) but since the key thing is the proportion of each ingredient relative to each other, you should be able to figure out the quantities of the first three ingredients quite easily (just use a teacup if need be) and then season to taste with the remaining ingredients. I’ll update with weights the next time I make it.
To serve 2, with leftover sauce:
2 1/2 cups thinly sliced scallions (i.e. spring onions in the UK) (greens and whites; from 1 to 2 large bunches)
1/2 cup finely minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 1/2 teaspoons usukuchi (light soy sauce)
3/4 teaspoon sherry vinegar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
6oz/170g noodles (ramen, soba or udon for example)
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Taste, and season to taste: you might also want to add a touch more vinegar or soy sauce to suit your palate. Ideally you should set the sauce to one side for about half an hour for all the ingredients to mingle but you can use it immediately and it will still be delicious. The leftover sauce will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.
When ready to use, cook noodles according to the packet directions: normally they will take 3-4 minutes in boiling water. Toss as much sauce through the noodles as you like – I normally use about a cup of sauce to 6oz of noodles.
July 7, 2011 § 2 Comments
Sorbet used to perplex me. Why would you choose sorbet over ice-cream? There was no contest between a scoop of rich chocolate ice-cream (in a cup not a cone if you’re asking) and a hard, icy lump of sorbet. I just hadn’t had the right sorbet. This magenta-hued cherry dessert, for example, would be enough to convert the most fervent ice-cream fanatic. Full-bodied but not overly rich, sweet but not saccharine, it’s the perfect end to a warm summery evening.
I know I recently insinuated that the only sensible destination for full season cherries, other than straight from paper bag to mouth, was the clafoutis. I was wrong. Where the clafoutis cossets the cherries in its pale and elegant custard, this sorbet grabs hold of the cherry flavour by the scruff of the neck and turns the volume up to maximum, in such a startling way as to cause you to mix metaphors. And yet it too is elegant in its unadulterated cherry-ness, the only addition to the fruits being a touch of sugar to round out the tart flavour and a kiss of almond essence. I used a food processor rather than blender to whisk up the fruits and their syrup and ended up with flecks of cherry skin through the sorbet. I suspect the “proper” thing would have been to sieve out the skin but I love the flecks and the reminder of the centrality of the fruit. Which is what sorbet is all about. That said, if you choose to serve it with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream on the side, I won’t judge.
2 lbs (1kg) cherries (full-flavoured, very dark cherries like Bings or Burlats)
1 cup (250ml) water
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp (180g) sugar
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp almond extract (or 1 tsp kirsch)
Stem the cherries and remove the pits (as you will eventually puree the cherries you don’t need to do a neat job of this but it’s still a fiddly job – leave yourself more time than you think it will take). In a medium saucepan, warm the cherries along with the water, sugar and lemon juice until they are very soft and cooked through – about 10-15 minutes. You will end up with something that resembles jarred cherries in syrup. Remove from the heat and let set to one side until they reach room temperature.
Puree the cherries and their syrup along with the almond extract or kirsch until smooth, in a blender or food processor. Chill the mixture thoroughly – you will need to leave it in the refrigerator for at least 5 or 6 hours to be sure it is cold enough to freeze, then churn it in your ice-cream maker* as per its instructions.
*If you do not have an ice-cream maker you can put the sorbet mix straight into the freezer in a tub and then mix it by hand by stirring it with a fork every 15-30 minutes, moving the frozen edges into the softer middle until the whole mix is frozen. You won’t get quite as smooth a consistency but the flavour will still be excellent.
June 28, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I have a bit of a habit of gravitating towards food that can be served in a bowl. Curries, stews, grain salads, pasta dishes: there’s a weeknight comfort in diving in with naught but a fork and dragging it through the layers in search of a cross section of goodies. You can serve the fanciest fancy-pants food in a bowl – the kind that you might have slaved over for three days – and the bowl somehow peels away the pretension and gives everyone permission to dive in and just enjoy it. You can sit cross-legged in your favourite chair and softest yoga pants clutching your bowl-shaped substitute hot water bottle, barely needing to divert your attention from that night’s film to scoop up spicy mouthfuls. My name is Andrea and I’m a bowl food addict.
That said, when circumstances force you out of that culinary comfort zone it can lead to great things. I had been ruminating over the second vegan Tuesday menu all week and kept coming back to black bean cakes: we held cherished memories of a dish at Millennium composed around some chili-flecked patties that I was keen to recreate. I had a glimmer of an idea to serve them – in a bowl of course – on a summery bed of succotash. It would be the perfect harbinger of that night’s summer solstice. But the market had other ideas: not a corn kernel in sight and if there had been fresh lima beans I was at least three hours too late to participate in the fight over them. Instead I spied a basket of delicate pea shoots, tendrils climbing and curling over the side in a seeming bid for freedom, and I liberated a few handfuls, destined for a brief saute and a squeeze of lemon. More nervously I chose a heavy, mis-shapen Cherokee purple tomato, the size of my palm. While not yet quite yielding that rounded heirloom tomato flavour that demands nothing but a slick of olive oil and a piece of mozzarella in accompaniment, it was more than tasty enough to form the basis of a pico de gallo. I had ended up with three separate elements but which together were plenty more than the sum of their parts. The crispy, cornmeal-studded edges of the bean cakes yielded to a soft and warm interior, whose earthy tones were only emphasized by their contrast with the bright spring greens and the piquant salsa. I tasted each individually, in every permutation, then finally piled up together. I guess there’s something to be said for the plate after all.
Black Bean Cakes with Pea Tendrils and Pico de Gallo
Serves 2 but is very easily doubled
The bean cake recipe is adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
For the bean cakes:
1 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
about 1/4 onion or a shallot, finely diced
1 14oz (400g) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp chipotle chile in adobo or ground chipotle chile (see note)
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes (about 1 small tomato)
1 tsp ground cumin
a good handful chopped cilantro (coriander)
juice of 1 lime
vegetable oil for frying
flour and fine cornmeal for dusting
For the pea tendrils:
2-3 handfuls pea tendrils (or an alternative salad green if not available; use whatever is in season and looks good)
For the pico de gallo:
1 large ripe tomato
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 serrano chiles, finely diced (or jalapeno if you prefer less heat)
about 2 tbsp finely diced white onion or shallot
1 tbsp chopped cilantro (coriander)
juice of 1 lime
* Note on chipotle chiles in adobo sauce. You can get these in cans in Latin groceries; Rainbow Groceries and Whole Foods in San Francisco also stock them. The chiles come whole and you need to puree them along with their sauce in a blender or food processor until smooth. You then end up with an incredibly potent and smoky spice which you should use only in small quantities. Keep the remainder in a jar in the fridge and use to season eggs, grits or in a chile con carne. If you can’t find chiles in adobo where you are, just use some ground chipotle chile instead (or, at a push, smoked paprika).
1. Begin by making the black bean patties. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet or saucepan over high heat. Add the onion and saute for 4-5 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Add the beans, chile, tomatoes, lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring from time to time. You might need to add a little water from time to time if the pan looks to be drying out too much.
2. Once the beans are soft, drain any excess liquid and roughly mash them – you should be able to do this with the back of a wooden spoon. If you want a smoother texture you can puree them, but I like to leave chunks of beans in the cakes. Add the cumin and cilantro to the beans and then add salt and lime juice to taste. Refrigerate the mix for at least 15 minutes, then form into cakes that are about 1/2 inch thick and 3 inches in diameter. This quantity of beans should yield 6 cakes of this size. Dust the patties with flour and place on parchment or wax paper. Return them to the refrigerator until ready to use.
3. While the bean mix or the patties are sitting in the refrigerator, make the pico de gallo. Dice the tomato and combine with the chopped garlic, chopped onion or shallot, diced chiles, cilantro and a good pinch of salt. Add the lime juice and check for seasoning – you might want to add more lime or salt at this point, to taste. Let sit to one side at room temperature for at least 20 minutes for all the flavours to combine.
4. Remove the bean cakes from the fridge and heat enough oil in a heavy skillet to coat the bottom generously – you want about a 1/4 inch of oil in the pan to prevent the cakes from sticking. Dust the cakes with cornmeal then fry over medium heat until they form a crust – about 10 minutes on each side.
5. When the cakes are a couple of minutes from being ready, heat a tablespoon olive oil in a skillet and add the pea tendrils. Toss with the oil just until the tendrils turn vibrant green but before they really start to wilt – this will take a minute or two at the most. Remove from the heat, squeeze in a little lemon juice and add a pinch of salt.
6. Serve the bean cakes alongside the greens and a spoonful of pico de gallo. Put the rest of the pico on the table so people can help themselves to more.
June 21, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Ah, the V word. While vegetarianism has become more than acceptable – almost trendy – veganism persists in carrying baggage of the hairy hippy, knit your own cashew cheese, variety. It is, to be fair, a lifestyle for the most committed, as I discovered while standing by a market stall last week, only able to think up dinners that involved cheese, or eggs, or fish. Imagine doing that every single day, for every single meal. And it’s not a lifestyle I would dream of taking on personally: while I have a lot of respect for vegan philosophy, I believe in the benefits of biodiversity and omnivorism a la Pollan. But from a culinary point of view, veganism fascinates me. In the wrong hands, vegan food is bland and unrelentingly wholesome: squeeky almost. But with care and a pinch of inventiveness it showcases produce as well if not better than any other cuisine, playing around with texture combinations and teasing out clever layerings of flavours. This is why some of my favourite places to eat in the Bay Area are either vegan or vegan-friendly: the sassy and spicy vegan Mexican at Gracias Madre, the mind-blowingly inventive Millennium and now, as of last weekend, the omnivorous Gather in Berkeley, where around half the menu is vegan, the other half including contrarily a burger and a bacon and egg pizza. It was like I had found my soulmate. A kale “caesar” salad with almond “parmesan” (you have to put up with a lot of quotation marks when it comes to vegan menus) rocked my world and completely outshone the said brunch pizza. On the dinner and lunch menus there’s a vegan “charcuterie” board which has been highly lauded: I can’t wait to try it.
It was over the Gather brunch that I was inspired to commit to cooking a vegan dinner once a week. I want to play around with the ways to get those savoury, satisfying, mid-palate flavours into food without having to rely on cheese or meat, where they abound. I’ll post the resultant dinner/recipe each week and we’ll see how it goes, and for how long. One of the best ways to coax that savoury roundedness into vegetables is through the use of Japanese or Chinese flavourings, especially tamari, shoyu or other soy sauces. At the farmer’s market, once I was past the almost irresistible draw of doing something with peas, favas and ricotta, my eye was caught by a pile of beautiful, flowering baby bok choy leaves. I grabbed several handfuls, as well as a bunch of pungent onion flowers and some bulbous garlic and knobbly ginger. The resultant stir-fry, peppered with sesame seeds and served over rice, could not have been improved by meat, fish, cheese, eggs or yoghurt. Vegan Tuesdays are on, until further notice.
Sesame Bok Choy Stir-Fry
1 cup rice
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
1 tsp sesame oil (optional)
2 cloves garlic and an equivalent amount of ginger – about 1 inch, both finely diced
around 3 cups/3 large handfuls bok choy or another Asian green like tatsoi; broccoli rabe would also work.
2 tbsp soy sauce – preferably tamari or shoyu
onion flowers (optional) or spring onions
Start by preparing rice as per your preferred method. We use a rice cooker, which since we eat an awful lot of rice is worth its place in our kitchen, but prior to that we used the absorption method: take 1 cup of rice, toast briefly in a small slug of oil in a small pan, add 1.5 cups water (for white rice; 2 cups for brown), bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer for around 20 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Resist the temptation to check it until the full 20 mins are up. If the water is absorbed, then fluff the rice very gently with a fork, cover the pan with a clean tea-towel and replace the lid. Set to one side, off the heat, so that the rice steams and fluffs for around 5 minutes.
When your rice is about 5 minutes away from being ready, start the stir fry. Heat a wok over medium high heat and add the sesame seeds to the dry pan. Toast for about 1 minute, shaking the pan from time to time and keeping a close eye on the seeds. If they start to pop or brown, remove the pan from the heat momentarily and add the oil.
Add the sunflower oil and sesame oil if using and swirl to coat the seeds. Turn the heat up slightly and add the garlic and ginger, moving them both quickly around the pan to prevent browning. Cook for about 1 minute to allow them to flavour the oil, then add the bok choy. Stir frequently for about a minute, coating with the oil and other ingredients, then add 1 tbsp of the soy sauce and stir to coat. Place a lid on top of the wok to allow the greens to steam for a minute or two (I use either the lid from a large casserole pan or the lid from a bamboo steamer for this purpose). Remove the lid and continue moving quickly around the pan for another minute or two, until the greens are tender and a bit wilted. Add the remaining soy sauce and onion flowers or spring onions if using and cook together for a final minute.
Serve, piping hot, over rice.
March 20, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I was bracing myself for some kind of existential crisis when I turned 30 a year and a half ago. It never came. Quite the contrary: life as a 30-something has never been better. I’m more confident in who I am and what I want and willing to use my time more wisely in accordance with this. I’ve dabbled in enough things to know when something really isn’t worth persistence and when the interim teeth-gritting is worth the end result. I also have a bit more urgency in the face of life. This has stirred up intense wanderlust on the one hand, and provoked the creation of something of a bucket list of activities on the other. One instant result: a season of learning to ski (or, as it eventually turned out, snowboard in my case), a bruised arse and ego, and a renewed respect for fearless 4 year olds.
Now we all know that the reason skiing is so attractive as an activity can be attributed to one (hypenated) word alone: apres-ski. Think post-exercise altitude-fueled hunger satisfied by a roaring log fire, brandied hot chocolate and rounds of pungent melting cheese. Quite the cozy scene. And quite the opposite from the picture heading up this post which is of a zesty, bright wehani rice and citrus salad. Yet without the former I would never have discovered the latter. Even the best of us start to tire of the cheese and bacon-laden ski resort meals after a while and need something to cleanse the palate, regroup, and reinvigorate the appetite for the next round of fondue. And the Pyramid Bistro in Aspen turned out to be the perfect place for this pick-me-up. Nestled into the top floor of the utterly charming (and dangerously good) Explore Bookshop, the cafe specializes in whole-food oriented dishes, like an amazing kale and shredded butternut squash salad topped with bean-cakes which I washed down with a cucumber and coconut smoothie and some homemade 7-grain bread served with a shocking-green chard pesto. I would transport the cafe to San Francisco in a flash and eat there at least once a week, it was that good. Instead, I went for the next best option and bought a copy of Lorna Sass’s Whole Grains which the cafe had sitting out on a shelf as an exemplary source of inspiration. It has very quickly become one of my go-to books for inventive, nourishing, attractive dishes. The book starts out with a treasury of information on cooking and storing grains of all kinds, from amaranth to wheat berries, which alone is worth the cover price. The second half is packed full of delights building on this foundation, with highlights including a rye berry and smoked trout salad, bulgar and lamb soup, and a brown rice and peanut salad with soy and ginger marinated flank steak, which I fully intended to blog but didn’t stand a chance of surviving long enough to be photographed. I’ll be quite happy to sacrifice myself to making it again soon enough, just for you…
In the meantime this wehani rice and three citrus salad is far from a consolation prize. It’s an unashamed taste-bud titillator, making for a refreshing lunch or a prime candidate for the first course of a larger dinner, especially as it’s so darned pretty. Yet I have to admit that I hesitated before making this salad because of the always off-putting moniker of “fusion” levied at it in the recipe headnotes. Do not fear: the Southwestern pinch of chipotle is what makes this dish so brilliant, gently bringing the citrus high notes back to earth. And if fusion means taking in a bite of soft-as-butter avocado along with the chewy rice and crunchy pumpkin seeds, then sign me up as a fusionist for sure. The original recipe suggests just regular oranges for the salad, but I went for a triple threat citrus mix since we’re fully in the season for it right now and I’ve been looking for an excuse to bring home handfuls of the jewel-like kumquats that are currently popping out on market stalls. They pep up the level of tartness alongside the naval orange juice in the dressing, while slices of blood oranges fan out on top of the dish with their sanguineous flashes of colour. The end result turns out to be the perfect porthole from winter to spring, fully appropriate for this day of vernal equinox. Bring it on.
Three Citrus and Rice Salad
Adapted from Whole Grains: Every Day Every Way by Lorna Sass
Yields 4 appetizer sized portions, or 2-3 lunches
2 cups cooked Wehani, Chinese Black Rice, or long grain brown rice, slightly warm or at room temperature (see note below)
1 cup diced and peeled Naval or Valencia orange segments (1/2 – 1 orange)
1 cup diced and peeled blood orange segments (1 small blood orange)
4-5 kumquats, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from about 1/2 orange)
1/4 cup raw unsalted pumpkin seeds, toasted
1 1/2 tsps grated orange zest
1/4 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1/8 tsp ground chipotle
1 ripe Hass avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
4 large lettuce cups or leaves
*Rice notes: Wehani is a red-brown basmati style rice, with some similarities to wild rice. Cook it by rinsing one cup of grains then combining with 2 cups of boiling water and simmering, covered, for about 40-45 minutes until tender. Remove from the heat, fluff with a fork, then cover the pan with a tea towel and replace the lid and leave to steam for a further 5-10 minutes before using. This will yield approximately 3 cups of cooked rice. If you can’t get hold of Wehani rice, which is likely outside of the US since it’s proprietary to Lundberg Farms, you can use Chinese black rice, wild rice or simply long grain brown rice as needed.
In a bowl, combine the rice, orange and blood orange segments (reserving some for decoration), kumquats, orange juice, pumpkin seeds, orange zest, salt and chipotle. Gently fold in the avocado chunks. Taste for seasoning and add a touch more salt if needed.
Place a lettuce cup on each plate and spoon the salad into the cup. Garnish with orange segments if you like.