Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Asian Fusion: Hijiki and Carrot Corn Fritters with Sesame Dipping Sauce Recipe

















I returned home Sunday night realizing I'd have to craft something together from my barren fridge. I had one carrot, some pantry ingredients, and an onion. Inspired by a dish once brought to me by a Japanese colleague at Juilliard, I planned to make hijiki with (one) carrot and some type of grain, but I had no grain in sight except corn meal. Seaweed-carrot polenta? Hmmm...Ok, why not?

As I cooked the polenta, I thought I would do as the Italians sometimes do: let it cool, slice it, and pan fry it until crispy. Then, I imagined dipping my crispy fritters in a sauce of tamari, rice wine vinegar and some spicy sesame oil, and suddenly my Sunday improvisation sounded more and more like a planned meal. The carrot in this recipe added some color, and pan frying the polenta gave a nice textural contrast to the soft interior, and helped it hold up well when it was dipped in the sauce.

My fusion dish was surprisingly great, and now that I write this, I am remembering the long-standing Japanese culinary tradition of reinterpreting Italian classics, ie. fried chicken cartilage (in lieu of calamari), and spaghetti a la hundreds of tiny dried fish on top, both of which I puzzled over, and ate, at Italian restaurants in Japan. My seaweed polenta would not be shy at all in that company. You go, Asian polenta; don't be intimidated by those little fishies.

Hijiki and Carrot Corn Fritters with Sesame Dipping Sauce

For the polenta:
Olive oil
One onion, chopped
One large carrot, chopped
1/4 cup dried hijiki seaweed, soaked in hot water for ten minutes, and drained
1 to 1 1/2 cup corn meal (or polenta)
Water, three to 4 cups (ratio should be 3-1, water to polenta)
Salt

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
2 tablespoons tamari
1 teaspoon mirin
1 teaspoon spicy sesame oil

You will need a small baking dish; I used one that was 8x8.

For the polenta:

In a medium saucepan, and over medium heat, saute the onion in a little olive oil until soft but not brown.
Add the carrot, and continue to cook, until carrot softens a bit.
Add the hijiki and stir.
Add the water, and bring to a boil. Slowly add the corn meal, and using a fork, incorporate the corn meal into the water. Lower the heat to a simmer, and continue cooking, stirring continually, until the mixture is thick and the cornmeal is cooked.

Pour the mixture into a lightly oiled 8x8 baking dish and let the mixture cool until it solidifies.

For the sauce:

Combine all ingredients. Adjust to your taste; my measurements are approximate. Set aside.

To make the fritters:

Cut the polenta into 1 inch strips and carefully remove them from the baking dish, being careful not to break them. Cut these strips further, into lengths of about 3-4 inches.

Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add olive oil, and when it's hot, add the strips to the pan, being careful not to crowd them. Cook them on one side until brown (about 3-4 minutes; you'll know when the strips "let go" of the pan without much prodding), and turn over and cook on the other side.

Serve warm, with the sauce on the side for dipping.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Goodbye Winter: Roasted Squash and Apple Soup Recipe

















This roasted butternut squash and apple soup comes from The Healthy Kitchen by Andrew Weil and Rosie Daly. In the middle of winter this warming soup hits the spot. I have been known to make it repeatedly on frozen days, much to the appreciation of my husband, who recently choked down a similar squash soup at a restaurant, comparing it disfavoringly to mine. (He's so sweet.) Now, on the cusp of spring, and recently returning to NYC from already sprung Geneva, Switzerland, I anticipated finding the spring bounty of ramps and garlic scapes and rhubarb at my food coop. Alas, I got ahead of myself, and instead found a pile of heavy, wintry, butternut squash. Ok, I'm still wearing my winter coat; I'll make it again.

This method of preparing a soup by roasting all of the vegetables first, is a simple and effective method that I have used over and over again with different combinations of ingredients. This particular one, with squash, apples, garlic and onion makes a sweet and tangy soup with loads of flavor. The recipe calls for a cilantro, walnut and jalapeno pesto for the top of the soup, but this time I served it garnished with a little olive oil and some shaved pecorino romano cheese instead. Perhaps by the time I finish this soup I'll be able to pack away my winter coat?

Roasted Winter Squash and Apple Soup
from The Healthy Kitchen, Andrew Weil, M.D. and Rosie Daley

1 large winter squash (about 2 1/2 lbs), such as butternut, buttercup, or kabocha, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tart, firm apples, peeled, cored, and quartered
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and red chili powder to taste
4-5 cups vegetable stock (I use water)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large roasting pan, toss the squash, onions, garlic, and apples with the oil to coat. Season well with the salt and chili powder. (I never use the chili powder.) Roast, stirring every 10 minutes, until the vegetables are fork-tender and lightly browned, about 40 minutes.

Put half of the vegetables with 2 cups of the stock in a food processor and puree until smooth. Repeat with remaining vegetables and broth. Return pureed mixture to the pot. (I use an immersion blender, instead.) If the soup is too thick, add more broth. Correct the seasoning and heat to a simmer.

Serve in warm bowls with dollops of cilantro walnut pesto.

Dreaming of Mexico: Chipotle Chicken Salad Tacos Recipe

















I often crave Mexican food. I have been disappointed by Mexican food in New York City. In Chicago, at the Maxwell Street Sunday flea market and Mexican food stands, I knew I was getting closer to the real deal. In Mexico City, I charted every meal I ate in order to get everything in, and a food and beach tour through the country (ok, yes, after the drug cartels and police work out their differences), might just be nirvana to me.

One of the chefs I worked with during my culinary school externship at Trio restaurant in Chicago took me to Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill. We ordered several things, among them a lamb stew, that my friend described as a puddle of love. When my parents were in town I took them to Frontera, and my father, a self-confessed Mexican food hater, fell in love, too. My mother got me the cookbook.

I like to make food that will stay fresh for awhile, that I can eat in different ways, for different meals. Rick Bayless' chicken, chipotle, and cabbage taco (or burrito) filling fits the bill. I like to fill sprouted grain tortillas with this and roll them up with avocado and tomato to take into Manhattan for lunch between classes that I teach, but it can be eaten as a simple salad, too. Sometimes I make an avocado, tomatillo and garlic salsa and use that as a dressing. Frequently, I'll make some black beans to round out the meal. I like to make this spicy, so I add more chipotles than called for. On a particularly warm day, sitting on a bench in Central Park, my spicy burrito in hand, in my mind, at least, I might just be one step closer to that Oaxacan beach vacation.

Chipotle Chicken Salad Tacos
from Rick Bayless' Mexico One Plate at a Time

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
2 canned chipotle chiles en adobo, finely chopped
salt
1/2 small head Napa cabbage, thinly sliced (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 cups coarsely shredded cooked chicken, preferably grilled, roasted or rotisserie chicken
1 large ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/3 cup coarsely grated Mexican queso anejo or another dry grating cheese, such as Romano or Parmesan
12-16 warm, fresh corn tortillas

1. The Filling. In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil and chipotles. Season generously with salt, usually about a generous 1/4 teaspoon. Add the cabbage, carrot, onion, cilantro and chicken. Toss everything together and let stand for 15 minutes. Taste and season with additional salt if necessary.

2. Finishing the Dish. Scoop the filling into a wide shallow serving bowl, dot with the cubed avocado and dust generously with the cheese. Set on the table with the warm tortillas, and you're ready for some great roll-them-yourself tacos.

Spring Cleanse: Wilted Dandelion Greens with Dried Figs and Pine Nuts Recipe

















I was inspired to make this dandelion green salad in honor of the first day of spring. I love dandelion greens for their nutrient-packed goodness and liver cleansing properties, but I am not the biggest fan of their bitterness. I wanted to make something that mitigated the bitterness without destroying the beauty of near-raw greens. I came up with a wilted salad with dried figs and toasted pine nuts, and just a touch of maple syrup. The figs add sweetness without being cloying, and the pine nuts lend richness to this crunchy, and nicely balanced spring salad. It's easy, nutritious, and feels like a spring cleanse on a plate.

Wilted Dandelion Greens with Dried Figs and Pine Nuts

1-11/2 or so tablespoons red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tsp (or to taste) maple syrup
One large shallot, minced
5 or six medium dried figs, cut into quarters
One large bunch dandelion greens, stems removed, washed, and cut into three inch lengths
1/2 cup (or more) pine nuts

Heat a small saute pan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and stir or toss regularly until golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan and add the minced shallots. Cook over medium heat until soft. Add the vinegar and maple syrup, and taste for balance. Add more oil or more vinegar depending on your taste. Add the figs, and cook slightly until they soften, about a minute. Lower the heat, and stir the dandelion greens into the pan and toss them around until just wilted.

Remove the greens from the pan, top with pine nuts, and serve immediately.

Serves about 4

Home with Hummus: a Recipe

















When I make hummus I think of my family. It was a staple in my home throughout my youth, years before hummus started appearing on every menu and in every supermarket in plastic tubs. When I was off on my own in college, it was the first recipe I wanted from my mother. I remember accidentally dumping huge quantities of cayenne into the mix, and, instead of sharing gracefully with my roommates as planned, I was forced to slowly work through my first attempt at this nourishing dip myself, eyes tearing all the while. Homemade hummus, with lots of lemons and cumin, and now, the right touch of cayenne, is home to me.

My mother's version is very different than the creamy more-tahini-than-chickpea type I had in Lebanon. Her version, my version, is chunky and it is thick. I make a big bowl of it at the beginning of the week and vary how I eat it. Some days I eat it for breakfast on some toast. Some days I spread it thick on sprouted hemp bread, top it with tomatoes and sunflower sprouts, and pack it as a sandwich for lunch. If I am not too hungry, I'll eat it for dinner with a nice bowl of soup and some warm, crusty bread. This dish is so delicious and inexpensive to make, why buy that small, preservative-laden supermarket tub again?

Hummus

3-4 cups of dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water
2-4 cloves of garlic, depending on your taste
3/4 of a jar of tahini
the juice of 8 lemons
water, for thinning the hummus
3-4 tablespoons of ground cumin
1-2 tablespoons of paprika
salt, to taste
parsley, paprika, cayenne, cumin and olive oil for garnish

Put the chickpeas in a heavy-bottomed pan and cover them by about an inch and a half with cold water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook them until they are tender but not mushy. Let them cool.

In a food processor (you might need to do this in two batches, halving the ingredients), add the garlic first, then the cooked chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and water, thinning the beans to a smooth but chunky paste. Add the cumin, paprika, and salt, to taste. Remove the spread to a bowl, drizzle olive oil on top, and garnish with the fresh herbs and dried spices.

Who I Am

I am a New York City based professional modern dancer and teacher, with biology and culinary degrees, and an unwavering interest in cooking and the culture of food. My American mother and Turkish father raised me and my sister between two cultures: my mother, a curious and talented cook, embraced not only my father's family and friends, but his country's food. It was at our family table, and through frequent and appreciated trips to Turkey, that my culinary palate was formed.

My professional life has expanded on those early travels, and has taken me to nearly forty countries. I danced and toured for over seven years with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, where I quickly learned that investigating a society's culinary treasures (and oddities) was my favorite way to uncover the soul of a place.

I attended culinary school after leaving the Cunningham company, and, subsequently, wrote a couple of pieces for David Rosengarten, and worked briefly with him as a fact-checker and researcher for the Rosengarten Report. During my externship for culinary school, I worked at Trio restaurant in Chicago under Chef Grant Achatz (now of Alinea fame), and pastry chef Curtis Duffy (now executive chef at Avenues in the Chicago Peninsula Hotel).

I continue to perform as a freelancer, and currently teach at The Juilliard School and the Merce Cunningham studio. Like mother, like daughter, I married a foreigner: my husband is Swiss-French, from Geneva; his mother is Brazilian. Between the raclette and the iskender kebap, the grass-fed burgers and the fejoida, we are defining our own traditions.

Why I'm Here

I have procrastinated for over three years in the writing of this blog, and today my procrastinating stops. My computer is stuffed with photos of food I have made, eaten, and admired; the bookmarks bar is overrun with food sites, nutritional information, and research from my travels. I have a gluttony of folders filled with my own recipe ideas and others' recipes I've made. I have been procrastinating beginning a blog that focuses on what I make for myself and my husband daily: simple, unintimidating, healthy, nutritious and inexpensive food, and today I begin doing it.

I will never be a cutting edge chef, the most imaginative writer in the world, or the most riveting video personality, but I love food, I cook regularly, and I believe some people out there might be interested in what I have to say.

I began thinking of starting a blog/vlog in 2005, when I was teaching dance (see "Who I Am") in Chicago, and was shocked to find that I owed nearly $3000 on my taxes that I didn't have. I scrimped and saved, and made one chicken or a pot roast and some vegetables into a week's worth of varied meals. It worked, I paid my taxes, and learned the value of consistent home cooking, skills I imagined would be helpful to share, particularly in this economic climate.

After returning home to NYC, less pay, and higher rent, I learned quickly that it behooved me to cook every meal I consumed in order to balance my budget. I joined a local food coop so I could feel good about supporting farmers using sustainable methods, be part of a functioning neighborhood community, and, selfishly, so I could reap the benefits of all that glorious organic produce for a fraction of the cost at other stores.

Every week I plan my menu, shop on one day, cook the next (and perhaps again mid-week), and generally, I have enough nutritious, fresh, food to last seven days for $60-70. Some weeks the dishes go together in a regional theme, some not. Sometimes I improvise with ingredients I find beautiful once I'm at the store, sometimes I follow already written recipes. Most of the time there is a personal stamp on the dishes; I like to change things around, do things differently.

When I have created the recipe, I will write it as I make it: a little of this, a little of that; cook it until it's done. My measurements aren't incredibly precise, but I will do my best to give accurate enough descriptions so it will be possible to approximate what I have made. In this way, you will cook as cooks do, by sight, taste, hearing, touch and smell. I hope that after a few weeks of posting, you, too, will be inspired to fill your belly for the week in a healthy, delicious way, for as much as it costs for one meal for two in a restaurant. Thanks for visiting!

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