Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Project: Save the Kales!

The Patient: A large bunch of kale
Status: Critical
Last Ditch Effort: Soup

It was a dark and stormy night .... Just kidding. It was a lovely morning, just before noon. I had my 2 year-old's lunch ready to go, but had nothing for myself. I opened the veggie drawer in the fridge and - eeeeek! That kale was on its last legs. Wilted, shriveled, looking like something that I might not feel too bad throwing out. Except I still saw a little glimmer of hope there, in the form of soup. But what kind?

I rummaged around for something else to go in the soup. Aha! A package of tofu that was 3 days away from hitting its expiration date. This was shaping up into an Asian sort of soup. I found a bottle of Korean soup base in the pantry (a gift from my mother-in-law, which I hadn't tried, so I knew not what it wrought.) This would work. It just needed one more thing, something magical, but I didn't know what it was.

I opened the freezer, fingers crossed for some hidden yummy I'd forgotten about. I opened a plastic grocery bag to find ... dumplings! Hooray! They were Korean mandu (gyoza, in Japanese) and I remembered my mother-in-law giving them to me a month ago. They were filled with ground pork, green onion and ginger - simple, and the perfect companion to my kale and tofu.

This soup was so easy and so tasty! It was also packed full of vitamins (kale is beyond good for you) and protein. The variations on this theme are endless: replace the Korean soup base with miso paste for a Japanese flavor, or switch out the gyoza for frozen ravioli or tortellini and use chicken broth for an Italian soup. Either way, you're eating kale - and that has to be good!

Korean Kale Soup

  • 1 bunch kale (yours doesn't have to be on death's door like mine was - fresh is fine!)
  • 1 package firm tofu (19 oz. or 10 oz., whatever you have - I used the big size)
  • 1/2 cup Korean soup base (see note)
  • 6 - 8 mandu / gyoza, or more, depending on the size, any flavor (Trader Joe's makes pretty good frozen ones, if you don't have an Asian grocery store, or mother-in-law, nearby)
  • a sprinkle of furikake for garnish

  1. Wash the kale, and remove the tough stems. Chop the leaves into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Heat a little oil (I used sesame oil) in a large pot. When hot, add the kale and saute for a few minutes. Add the tofu and saute for another few minutes.
  3. Add approximately 4 cups of water and the liquid soup base. Cover the pot and let cook for 4 minutes at high heat.
  4. Add the mandu, and make sure not too much of your broth has evaporated (add more if you like; I prefer mine a little more stew-y) and put the lid back on. Let cook about 10 minutes, until the mandu are cooked, but not falling apart.
  5. Ladle into a bowl, sprinkle with furikake, and enjoy your kale!

(Note: I would tell you what kind of soup base it is, but it's all in Korean. Like, everything except the ingredients and the words "Korean Soup Base". It seems to consist of soy sauce, sugar, and "seafood extracts", whatever that is. I bet, if you were adventurous, you could recreate the flavor using fish sauce (nam pla), some soy sauce and some sugar.)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Randomly French Chicken

One of the best money-saving kitchen skills to learn is how to cut up a whole chicken. Up until 3 months ago, I had never done it. It seemed like too difficult a task, with too little reward. Then I saw an episode of "America's Test Kitchen" on PBS that featured a skillet-roasted chicken recipe (which is delicious, and which will probably end up here later on.) I've posted the link to that video
here because the first four minutes are an excellent tutorial on how to part a chicken. Go ahead and watch it, I'll wait.

... Done? Okay, now you can buy whole chickens, which are always cheaper than those already cut up in the grocery store. What's more, you get what's left of the chicken once you take off the legs and breasts. It may not look like much, but it can be the basis for an entirely new meal! (See the recipe below for "Enchilasagna", and others, to be posted in the future.)

This recipe, which I'm calling "Randomly French Chicken", is an amalgam of a few different recipes. The technique is French, and calls for tomatoes, onions, and olives, as well as either white or red wine for braising the chicken and veggies. There is a lot of wiggle room as far as what else you want to add in. 8 oz. of sliced mushrooms would be great, making for more of a cacciatore approach, while the red peppers I used in this incarnation is more of a Basque presentation. You can add either chopped parsley or basil (like I did) to punch up the flavor a little more. Bon appetit!

Randomly French Chicken

  • Vegetable oil or butter, or a combination of the two, about 2 tablespoons
  • 1 whole chicken, cut into 2 leg pieces and 2 breast pieces (so you have 4 pieces total)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 - 2 cups red or white wine (I prefer white)
  • 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 14 oz. can of black olives, or about a cup of Kalamata olives, if you have them
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley or basil
1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat butter / oil combo over medium heat, and when very hot, add the chicken pieces, skin-side down. This WILL splatter - I suggest a metal splatter guard. Cook for approximately 8 minutes, until browned. Remove from pot to a plate, cover with foil, and set aside.
2. To the pot, add the onion and garlic. Keep them moving so nothing burns. When the garlic starts taking on color, add the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up all the stuck-on bits of chicken.
3. Add the tomatoes, olives and peppers to the pan, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for a few minutes. Now take the chicken pieces and nestle them in among the veggies, skin-side up. Cover and turn the heat down to medium-low, keeping it at a high simmer.
4. Depending on how hot and conductive your pan is, check on the chicken every 10 minutes, stirring and adjusting the heat as necessary so nothing burns. If it looks too dry, add more wine. After about 30 minutes, using a meat thermometer, check for doneness. The thigh of the chicken should be at least 170F.
5. When your chicken is done, stir in the chopped parsley or basil, check again for seasoning, and serve.

The chicken would do well with rice or noodles to soak up the yummy sauce. This is one of those great recipes that is actually better the next day, so try not to eat it all at once!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer Dinner Salad, Part I

After a big pot of soup, the dinner salad is the easiest way to use up leftovers. Let's say it's Monday and you just got home from work. You open the fridge and see the chunk of flank steak and one ear of grilled corn from your weekend BBQ. You could either take it to work tomorrow and eat it for lunch -- a perfectly acceptable solution, saving you time and money and not wasting any food. But that's kinda boring - it's the exact same thing you ate when you made it the first time. Leftovers DO NOT have to mean repeats!

So what do you do? You make a dinner salad! You're using a fraction of the meat you'd normally need to feed the family (stretching the budget, and let's face it, saving wear and tear on your colon. We could all stand to eat less flesh.) Salads are a great way to use up cooked veggies, meat, eggs, cheese - almost anything can ride a salad and be the better for it.

The keys to making exciting (yes, I said exciting) salads are add-ins and dressing. The add-ins are your leftovers, nuts, raisins, croutons, cheese, herbs, etc. - anything that sits on top of your bed of lettuce. The dressing is what ties your creation all together thematically. The salad pictured above had some Mexican flavors going for it - the flank steak, the grilled corn - so I made a southwestern vinaigrette.

And that's all you need! Summer salads don't get better than this! Serve with whatever bread you have lying around (or mmmmm, cornbread!) or for a heartier meal, fry up some quesadillas. Que sabor!

Southwestern Dinner Salad

  • 1 bag of salad greens (I like Trader Joe's varieties)
  • 1 piece of leftover beef - flank, steak, whatever, sliced thin, or even a crumbled-up burger
  • 1 ear of grilled corn, kernels cut from the cob
  • 1/4 red onion, sliced very thin
  • 1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, sliced very thin
  • 1/2 can black beans, rinsed well
  • handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, or 1 teaspoon fresh oregano
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange, lemon or lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • splash of balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  1. Put the cumin seeds in a small pan and toast over medium-low heat. This will take 3 - 5 minutes - just make sure they don't burn. You want them darker and smelling wonderfully and just starting to smoke. Remove from heat. Ideally, grind finely in a mortar and pestle, or if you don't have one, put the cumin in your food processor and buzz until they are as finely ground as you can get them.
  2. Transfer the ground cumin to your food processor and add the oregano and garlic, and buzz again. Add the sugar, salt, juices and vinegars and process again.
  3. Add the olive oil to the food processor and buzz again. Taste for seasoning (more acid? More sugar?) and serve.

Serves two. You can make fancy platings for your salad, but I just lay the lettuce down and throw everything else on top. Other options for add-ins that go well with this dressing are avocado, chopped cilantro, and cotija cheese.

Masala Channa

I love Indian food, but was always too scared to cook it. So complicated! So exotic! So far beyond the skills and ken of this humble white girl! Then for Christmas I received a big Indian cookbook, broadly titled, "The Best-Ever Curry Cookbook." Most of the recipes seemed uncomplicated, but filled with spices I knew were not available to me at my local American grocery concern.

I left the book alone for a few months, but my curiosity grew. I picked the book back up and read through the recipes in earnest, earmarking a few for trial runs. The huge library of spices I'd thought I needed to amass actually wasn't so big. I chose the 10 or so most common ingredients and went shopping ... at India Sweets and Spices, in Los Feliz.

That place was awesome! I have the most fun going to ethnic grocery stores: it's like a field trip, with so many sights, smells and sounds to take in. (Yes, sounds: my two year-old daughter danced to the Bollywood songs in the aisles, cracking up the girl at the cash register.) I purchased enough spices (whole cumin, coriander, mustard, star anise, and cardamom) and basics (canned coconut milk, garam masala curry paste, and tamarind paste) to last for a while, and got out for around $40. Not too shabby!

This recipe does have quite a few ingredients, but once you make that one trip to the spice market, you're set and can make all the rest of the recipes in the book. The recipe for Masala Channa required a lot of spices ... but the rest of the ingredients were not only readily available at the regular grocery store, they were cheap! This was my kind of food!

Masala Channa (tart and spicy chickpeas) are a street food, according to my book. They are served with flat breads like chapatis and parathas. I made them as a side dish, and they went very well with rice. They are nutty and bold, and are nicely offset by a cool raita. The leftovers? They landed on my plate next to fried eggs and toast and made a delicious, different (and distinctly colonial) breakfast!

I made some changes to the recipe for ease of use - I substituted canned chickpeas for dried, since I didn't want to soak overnight and then cook for another 2 hours before I could even start the recipe; and I replaced tamarind concentrate (in a convenient 4 oz. tub) for the tamarind pulp. The recipe below is from my cookbook, but reflects these changes.

Masala Channa
(Recipe courtesy The Best-Ever Curry Cookbook by Mridula Baljekar)

  • two 14 oz. cans of chickpeas, rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons tamarind concentrate, diluted with 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, grated or minced
  • 1 fresh green chili, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground tumeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped (I used canned)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • chopped chilies and chopped onion, to garnish
1. Heat the vegetable oil in a wok, karahi (an Indian-style wok) or large pan and fry the cumin seeds for 2 minutes until they begin to splutter. Add the chopped onion, garlic, ginger and chili and fry for 5 minutes
2. Add the ground cumin, coriander, turmeric and salt and fry for another 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and tamarind paste. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Add the chickpeas and garam masala, cover, and simmer for 15 to 25 minutes, depending on how firm you want the chickpeas. Garnish with chilies and onions.

Note: I didn't have any chilies, so my chickpeas were tart and nicely spiced, but not hot. I'm not really a heat-spicy person anyway, but I'm sure you could crank the Scovilles up on this one if you choose.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Enchilada Casserole or Mexican Lasagna ... Enchilasagna?

I really admire people who plan out their menus for days or even weeks ahead of time. I just can't seem to get that organized. So while others know how many zucchini they'll need for the week, I fly by the seat of my pants, and buy whatever looks good at the farmer's market and grocery store. This is great fun, but of course, it inevitably leads to me looking at single veggies in the crisper drawer, wondering how to make use of everything before it can go bad.

This recipe for an enchilada casserole came from a "perfect storm" in my fridge. I had a chicken carcass that needed attention (I'd used the legs and most of the breasts two days earlier, in my "French Chicken" (recipe to follow later)), some leftover brown rice, four zucchinis, and three ears of corn that were all about to outstay their welcome in the refrigerator. What to do?

Thankfully, ripe summer produce means Mexican food. Tomatoes, zucchini, corn, beans, squash, peppers and herbs are all looking great (and cheap!) at the farmer's market, so I'm sure you can re-create this, or something like it, very easily, where ever you are, this summer. If you want to make it vegetarian, leave out the chicken and add another can of beans - maybe pinto.

Enchilada Casserole / Mexican Lasagna ... Enchilasagna?

  • 1 red onion, sliced approximately 1/8" thin
  • 3 ears of corn, sliced from the cob (you could use canned, but it won't be as tasty)
  • 4 smallish zucchini, sliced approximately 1/8" thin
  • 1 1/2 or 2 cups cooked rice (I used brown)
  • 3 cups cooked chicken, shredded, from one chicken carcass
  • 1 14-oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 oz. tomato paste
  • 2 cups enchilada sauce (recipe below)
  • 1 36-count bag small corn tortillas
  • 2 or 3 cups shredded cheese (I used mozzarella and jack)

1. Cook the carcass in enough salted water to cover. Boil until chicken is cooked through and easy to remove from the bone. Take the chicken out of the pot and place in a bowl to cool. If you are making your own enchilada sauce, reserve two cups of the water for that recipe.
2. While the chicken is cooling, slice your zucchinis and onion thinly. Cut the corn kernels from the cobs, and saute the corn, onion and zukes in a little butter in a very large pan. Salt, and stir occasionally to prevent sticking. You just want the onions to color a little, and the zucchini to give up some moisture.
3. Pour the vegetables from the saute pan into a large bowl. Add the rice, and the can of black beans.
4. Take all the meat off the chicken carcass, shred or chop, and add to the veggies and rice. Add in the tomato paste. Give it all a good stir.
5. Preheat your oven to 350 F. Spray a 9" x 13" baking dish with Pam, then smear a thin layer of enchilada sauce on the bottom of the pan. Cover this layer with tortillas, overlapping as needed. I used seven tortillas per layer - two rows of three, and one cut into quarters, pointy ends in the corners. On top of the tortillas, spread another layer of enchilada sauce, then half the chicken veggie mix, pressing down to cover the tortillas and sauce evenly. Sprinkle with 1/3 of your cheese. Follow with more tortillas, sauce, the rest of the chicken, another 1/3 of your cheese, and finish with tortillas, sauce and the rest of the cheese.
6. Cover with foil and bake for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is melty and everything is hot inside. Remove the foil and bake another 5 minutes.

Makes 6 servings. Goes well with salad and a beer. Garnish with cilantro or sour cream, if you are fancy.

Enchilada Sauce
(Courtesy of Emeril Lagasse)

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 2 cups chicken stock (I used the water I boiled my chicken in: multi-purposing!)
  • 10 ounces tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
(I also added 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon)

1. In a medium saucepan, heat oil, add flour, smoothing and stirring with a wooden spoon. Cook for 1 minute. Add chili powder and cook for 30 seconds.
2. Add stock, tomato paste, oregano, and cumin. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. The sauce will thicken and smooth out.

This sauce turned out GREAT! Here's the trick: Tomato paste comes in little 6 oz. cans. Use 10 ounces for the enchilada sauce, and you'll have two ounces left over to stir into the chicken and veggies in Step 4 of the Enchilasagna. Cool, right?