Saturday, May 29, 2010

more bok choy ideas

Here's another idea I came across when I was looking for something different to do with baby bok choy. The original recipe, from Jane Spice, has you pour a coconut milk-red curry sauce over steamed bok choy. I didn't have any red curry paste, so I decided to use curry powder instead. To the bok choy I added a bunch of teeny-tiny carrots (they always look so cute sitting there at the farmers market but I pass them by because I never know what to do with them), to end up with spring vegetables in a kind of gentle Massaman curry sauce. (Now if only we could get some gentle spring weather to go with it, right?)

I also added some leaves from a lemon balm plant that I recently bought, wondering if it would be a good lemongrass substitute for those of us in temperate climes. (Here in Seattle, lemongrass is grown as an annual, so I'm hoping that lemon balm might be a way to keep this flavor handy year-round.) The verdict: I think so, though the best method for getting the flavor into the dish might require a bit more experimenting. Next time I'll try steeping a sprig in the coconut milk from the beginning and then discarding it before serving, to try to get a subtler flavor more evenly throughout the sauce. (For those inclined to similar experiments in their garden: lemon balm is in the mint family, so for the love of all that is holy grow it in a pot.)

I'm sneaking this in under the wire before the end of Meatless Week on The Cookbook Chronicles. Unfortunately--given that event's purpose of reducing your food's carbon footprint--this supper includes one ingredient that's really pretty bad from a greenhouse-gas point of view. Anyone care to guess what it is?

Spring Vegetables in Coconut Curry Sauce

For a heartier dish, add tofu. To tell you the truth, I kind of wish I had!

1 medium shallot
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp vegetable oil
A sprig (about 9-10 leaves) of lemon balm
1 bunch baby carrots
1 C coconut milk
1 tsp kecap manis
1 tsp curry powder
1/8 tsp salt
About 1 lb baby bok choy
Cooked jasmine rice

Peel the shallot and slice it thinly crosswise. Peel the garlic.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and stir for a moment or two. Press the garlic into the pan and stir for a moment more.

Let the shallots and garlic cook for a few minutes while you wash the carrots and trim off the tops. Wash the lemon balm and add it to the pan. Add the carrots to the pan and stir to coat with the oil.

In a small bowl stir together the coconut milk, kecap manis (or a little bit of soy sauce and sugar), curry powder, and salt. Add the sauce to the pan and gently fold it in to the vegetables. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium low, and let cook for about 5 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash the bok choy, trim the ends, and separate the leaves. Then--after the carrots and coconut milk have been cooking for 5-7 minutes--add the bok choy to the pan. Fold the leaves into the sauce, then cover and cook for about 5 minutes more. Remove the lemon balm and serve the curry over rice.

Serves 2.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

turnips rise to the challenge

This week, local food writer Lorna Yee of The Cookbook Chronicles is challenging her meat-loving self to go vegetarian for a week, and inviting other food bloggers to join her. A fun and worthy endeavor, but at first I thought I couldn't really participate, since we already cook vegetarian every week. Then I started thinking about how dependent my cooking is on milk and (especially) cheese, and how dairy production is almost as bad as meat from a greenhouse-gas point of view.  (Shorter food system problem: cows fart, a lot.) So I decided I'd challenge myself to add some vegan recipes to the blog this week.

My first dish, a salad of thinly sliced young turnips, comes from Cackalackyfoodie, a brand-new but already awesome food blog penned by a friend of a friend. The writer, Lynn, gives not so much a recipe as a brief description--a digression on her way to turnip gratin--but it was evocative enough to get me intrigued.

I suppose a vegetable salad doesn't sound like much of a stretch for this assignment. I mean, so I made a salad that was vegan--whoopdeedoo, right? But it's relevant in an unexpected way. Introducing her project, Lorna notes, "I’ve always wondered why we don’t hear people wax poetic about vegetables in the same way they do about meat. Why does the mere mention of  bacon cause so many of us to slide off our seats? Are vegetarians in general just simply more restrained in their food-love, or is it something else?"

The answer is: something else. Specifically, I think she just hasn't met the right vegetarian recipes yet. I know I positively swoon for garlicky greens served with poached eggs and toast. And a humble rice and cabbage soup. And unassuming boiled kale.  And that's just for starters. Hey, Lorna, you meat eaters can keep your bacon.

So that's where this salad comes in. Okay, so I wouldn't call it quite swoon-worthy, but it's much closer than you might imagine just from looking at the description of barely-adorned unpopular vegetables below. The truth is, even I was expecting a recipe that I wanted to like more than I would actually like it.  But it's scrumptious--cold, fresh, and crisp, the slight bite of the vegetables balanced by the fruity richness of the olive oil. A reminder of how delicious it can be to challenge yourself. 

Simple Spring Turnip Salad
Adapted from Cackalackyfoodie

This salad is good made an hour or so ahead and chilled, but I like it best the first day it's made.

1 bunch of small Japanese turnips, or a mix of turnips and radishes--about 8 oz. total
1 Tbsp mild, fruity vinegar (I used orange muscat champagne vinegar from Trader Joe's)
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 Tbsp olive oil
A few sprigs of fresh thyme

Wash and trim the vegetables. Slice them crosswise very thinly using a sharp knife or a mandoline. Arrange them on a serving plate.

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, salt, and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil. Pour the dressing over the vegetables.

Wash the thyme and pull the leaves off the stems, strewing them over the top of the salad.

Serves 2 or 3.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

bok choy for a change

Here's the bad news: our camera lens broke. This means that my photos are going to be even more mediocre than usual for the next little while.

But here's the good news: I found something different to do with baby bok choy.

I'd seen the stuff at the farmers market for several weeks running, and it seemed like it might make a good change from the endless bunches of chard and kale we've been eating (that's how you can tell you live in Seattle: your idea of a welcome change from greens is...a different kind of greens). But all I could think of to do with it was to make stir-fry with garlic sauce. Which, don't get me wrong, is delicious, but I wanted something...different.

This recipe fits the bill--roast the cabbage briefly in a very hot oven, then douse it in lemon juice and lemon zest. It's a kind of Marco Polo of a recipe, transporting bok choy from Asia to the Mediterranean.

The original recipe, from Eating Well, is a side dish, but I wanted to make it into a main (translation: I am lazy, and prefer one-dish meals). I glanced at the package of soba noodles sitting in a canister on the counter but initially dismissed them as a possibility--I wanted to keep the dish in the Western Hemisphere. Because I wanted something different. Then I remembered that Italy also has a buckwheat pasta tradition--pizzoccheri, or buckwheat noodles that are typically combined with greens and cheese. Bingo. We have a winner: a quick spring supper that nods to the flavors of a famous peasant dish.

Making this dinner also made me think about the sometimes contradictory and inconsistent rules I have about cooking and eating local food. For example, if a food grows here but isn't in season (tomatoes), I won't buy it. But if a food doesn't grow here at all (lemons), I'll freely use it any time of year. Except that doesn't even quite cover it. I buy bananas nearly every week (though mostly for the sake of my Monkey)--but I'd never buy a pineapple. That totally doesn't make sense, does it? This kind of thing is exactly why I say this blog is about cooking local "in theory and practice"--sometimes there's quite a gap between the two.

How about you--do you have rules, informal or strict, logical or wildly inconsistent, about buying local produce?

Buckwheat Noodles with Lemony Roasted Bok Choy
Adapted from EatingWell

The original recipe calls for tarragon, which I left out because I didn't have it on hand. I think I might add about a teaspoon of fresh thyme next time.
A large bunch of baby bok choy
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic
Freshly grated zest of about 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon mirin, or sherry with a pinch of sugar
Ground black pepper
About 6 oz. dried soba noodles
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic
Red pepper flakes
Parmesan cheese
Put a large saucepan of water on to boil for the pasta. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and preheat the oven to 450 F.
While you wait for things to heat up, wash the bok choy, trim the ends, and quarter each head lengthwise. (Really you will probably end up with a lot of loose leaves--that's okay.)
Put 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large baking dish. Peel a garlic clove and press it into the dish. Add about 1/4 tsp salt. Add the bok choy and toss to coat.

Meanwhile, add the soba noodles to the boiling water. They'll need to cook for about 6 to 8 minutes.

Aim to put the bok choy in the oven, on the lowest rack, a minute or two after you begin cooking the noodles. Roast for about 6 to 8 minutes, stirring a couple of times, until the bok choy is wilted but still a little crisp.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together the lemon zest, lemon juice, mirin or sherry, and black pepper.

Drain the soba noodles and rinse them with cold water.

Take the bok choy out of the oven and pour the dressing over it.

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat in the pan you cooked the noodles in. Add a little salt, some red pepper flakes, and the other clove of garlic, pressed. Stir around for a minute or so. Put the noodles back in the pan and toss around a bit. Add a little water to prevent the noodles from sticking if you need to.

To serve, put some noodles in a bowl, top with some of the bok choy (tongs are your friend in both cases), and grate a bunch of Parmesan cheese over the whole mess.

Serves 2.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

deja vu all over again

You know what's nice on a spring night in Seattle, when the days are getting longer but the sky's still gray with rain? A good hearty salad...oh wait, did I say that already?

Well, here's the thing. Around these parts when I find an approach to dinner that works I use it over and over again. And again. And then a few more times. I wouldn't call these patterns ruts, exactly--more like kicks. There's only so much creativity I can muster at the end of a long day, you know? So I tend to fall back on variations on a tried-and-true theme.

But for me there's a lot of pleasure in this repetition. I like the reliability of this kind of cooking. And the seasonality of it prevents it from becoming boring--the calendar page will flip and one of these days we'll move on to a new dinner kick (I'm so looking forward to grilled artichokes), so we may as well enjoy this one while we can.

So last week's warm sweet potato salad is followed by this week's warm asparagus salad. This one could hardly be simpler--just roasted asparagus, tossed with fresh herbs and a splash of vinegar while it's still warm, and strewn with a bit of crumbled goat cheese. We're entering that dead-simple-cooking time of year that I love.

We ate this with poached eggs on toast. Of course we did.

Roasted Asparagus Salad

1 pound asparagus
2 large cloves garlic
1 to 2 Tbsp olive oil
black pepper
A large roasted red pepper--or half the contents of a 7-oz. jar
1 to 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
Chopped fresh herbs--a few tablespoons altogether. I used chervil, parsley, thyme, and chives. Whatever you have in your herb garden will be just fine, I bet.
About 2 to 3 oz. fresh goat cheese (chevre)

Preheat oven to 425 F. Wash the asparagus, break off the tough ends, and cut the stalks into 2- to 3-inch pieces. Peel the garlic. Toss the asparagus in a large baking dish with the olive oil, salt and black pepper to taste, and pressed garlic.

Bake the asparagus--stir once or twice--until the stalks are tender but still firm and bright green, about 15 minutes. If you want delicious little charred bits you can turn on the broiler for the last few minutes of cooking.

While the asparagus is cooking, chop the red pepper into shortish strips and wash and finely chop your herbs.

Remove the asparagus from the oven and let it cool slightly. Then place it in a bowl along with the red pepper strips, splash some red wine vinegar on it, add the herbs, and toss together. Crumble some goat cheese over each serving (best to do this right before eating it so that the cheese doesn't get soggy).

Makes about 3 side-dish servings.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

the in-between season

You know what's nice on a spring night in Seattle, when the days are getting longer but the sky's still gray with rain? A good hearty salad, even better if it's one that's served warm. Something with bright flavors and fresh vegetables to match the spirit of the season, but cozy and comforting enough to match the actual weather.

This is an adaptation of a salad that made the rounds of the food blogs a few autumns back. To make it a little more spring-like, I added some sumac--a tart, sunny spice--and changed up the vegetables. The winter squash called for in the original recipe are gone from the farmers markets by now, but I found sweet potatoes at the Ballard market a couple weeks back, and that's what I used. But I think you could make this dish with just about any hearty vegetable that will go soft and sweet when roasted--carrots, rutabagas, maybe even cauliflower. Again, it could be almost a recipe template, easily adaptable.

Roasted Vegetable and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing
Adapted from Casa Moro via Orangette

1 1/2 pound sweet potatoes, or a mixture of roastable vegetables
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp sumac
1 medium clove garlic

1/4 to 1/2 of a medium red onion
Juice of 1 lemon

3 Tbsp well-stirred tahini (that's what the original recipe requests, but I can vouch for the fact that half-assedly stirred tahini will work okay too)
2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium clove garlic

1 15-ounce can chickpeas (or 1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked chickpeas, if you're a better person than I am and cook your own beans)
A few handfuls of arugula
Chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Wash and peel the sweet potatoes (or other vegetables), and cut them into 1-inch cubes (or roughly equal-sized chunks). Place the olive oil, spices, and salt in a large baking dish. Peel the garlic and press it into the dish. Add the sweet potatoes and toss everything together with a spoon or with your hands. Put in the oven and bake for 15 to 25 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are soft. Remove from the oven and cool a bit.

While the vegetables are cooking, chop the onion very fine and place it in the bottom of a serving bowl. Squeeze the lemon juice over it and stir with a fork. (This step is optional, but good to do if you don't like your onion very strong.)

In a small bowl, stir together the tahini, water, and olive oil. Add salt to taste. Peel the garlic and press it into the bowl. Stir everything together to combine.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Wash the arugula and spin dry.

When the vegetables are out of the oven and cooled to somewhere between piping hot and room temperature, assemble the salad. Add the chickpeas and vegetables to the bowl with the onion and lemon juice, and toss gently to combine. Add tahini dressing to taste and toss again--or, let each person drizzle the dressing over their individual serving. If you're really together, sprinkle each plate with a little chopped parsley. 

Makes 4 to 6 servings.