Thursday, December 18, 2014

Authentic Jungle Curry (Kaeng Pa)

Jungle curry is a primitive dish that comes from the remote regions of Thailand. It is a blindingly hot dish that was traditionally made with bush meat and whatever other ingredients were on hand. Today, it remains a popular dish in Thailand, and although it is still an incredibly spicy dish, the random jungle meats have been largely replaced by duck or pork (I use seitan). The reason for the severe hotness of the dish is twofold: first, hotness was often used to mask sometimes dubious meats or vegetables used, and second, there is no coconut milk used to add sweetness and creaminess to absorb the heat. This is a watery curry—almost a stew. This is an adventurous dish.

Shopping hints: for the seitan, there are a lot of different types out there. Go with traditional flavored (not barbecue, bacon, chorizo, or any other varieties that are now available). And there are also strips or other "cuts" also now out there; just go with the plain old chunky stuff. Also, there's some unusual ingredients here, such as karachi, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, Thai basil, and lemongrass. All these are available at most Asian grocers. 

Prep time: 2 cocktails

For the paste:
1-3 habenero peppers, stems removed and halved (amount should vary depending on your tolerance--I use 5 peppers)
4 fingers of krachai, chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
¼ cup shallot, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic
2 TBSP galangal, chopped
Pinch white pepper
1 Anaheim pepper chopped

For the curry:
3 TBSP peanut oil, divided
1 8-ounce package seitan, torn into thin strips
3 cups veggie stock
2-3 TBSP fish sauce
3 Anaheim peppers, chopped
2-3 cups mixed vegetables (can include broccoli, bamboo shoots, zucchini, carrot, cabbage, eggplant, etc.)
2 TBSP drained green peppercorns, out of a jar (available by capers and other condiments at the store)
4 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
5 fingers of krachai, chopped finely
1 large tomato, sliced
Handful Thai basil (tear largest leaves in half)
Prepared forbidden black rice, sticky rice, or sticky noodles

Prepare the paste by combining all the paste ingredients in food processor, spice grinder, or mortar and pestle. Process until you have a smooth paste.

Heat 2 TBSP of the oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add seitan. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until it begins to get a bit browned and crispy on the exterior. Remove from heat and set aside.

With your burner on medium, heat the remaining 1 TBSP of the oil in a large wok or pan. When hot, add 1/3 cup of the paste (save the rest of the paste for another use). Stir constantly for 90 seconds. Add stock and fish sauce. Bring to a boil and then add Anaheim peppers, vegetables (but NOT the tomato), peppercorns, lime leaves, and krachai. Stir frequently for a couple minutes until veggies becomes a bit tender.

Stir in tomato and Thai basil remove from heat. Let sit for a minute or two then add Seitan and serve over warm rice.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Filthy, Dirty Rice

Dirty rice is a Creole dish that gets that name because it is traditionally speckled with chicken liver and giblets. Er, no thanks. Instead, I opt for a hearty combination of cajun spices to give this dish some serious kick. But fear naught, dear reader! This substitution sacrifices nothing in terms of authenticity or awesomeness. In fact, if anything, it makes my recipe superior to the giblet-centric version, thus making it not just dirty rice but filthy, dirty rice! Maybe even despicable, grimy, filthy, dirty rice. How could you not want to make that for your family?! 

Prep time: 1 cocktail

3 TBSP olive oil, divided
2+ cloves garlic
½ cup chopped onion
3-5 stalks celery, chopped
½ green bell pepper, chopped
1 cup uncooked brown rice
1-2 Tomatoes
1.5 cups water
¾ tsp ground thyme
¾ tsp oregano
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
½ tsp cayenne (or more to taste)
1 TBSP Cajun seasoning
3-5 bay leaves

Heat 1 TBSP of oil and add the garlic and onion, sauté a couple minutes Add celery and pepper and sauté another couple minutes. Remove from heat.

In separate saucepan with lid, heat the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium high heat. Add rice and stir very frequently until the rice turns nice and toasty brown.

Add vegetable mixture, tomatoes, water, all spices, and bay leaves to the rice. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook until the rice is done (45 minutes-1 hour). Remove and let rest, covered, a couple minutes, fluff with a fork and adjust seasoning to taste.

Meatless Louisiana Red Beans

How could you not love a food that was supposedly invented by a gaggle of people with such a drinking problem that by the time Monday morning rolled around, this was all they were able to stomach? That's the tale behind this dish. The fine citizens of New Orleans have served red beans on Mondays for generations because by the time the weekend was over, this was the only food up to the task of soaking up all those Sazeracs. Note that cooking beans takes a looooong time--about 8 hours at my altitude (though a pressure cooker reduces this time to minutes) plus soaking the beans overnight. But cooking this dish from scratch is well worth it! So go fix yourself a French 75 and get into the kitchen! Serve with dirty rice

Prep time: 1 cocktail

1 pound dry red beans
1 large green pepper, chopped 
1 medium onion, chopped 
5 medium stalks celery chopped 
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 ounce Tabasco sauce (ONLY use Tabasco, no other hot sauce is acceptable)
6-8 bay leaves
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp Cajun seasoning
1 tomato, minced (optional)
2-3 tsp salt (to taste)
1 TBSP soy sauce
Vegetarian Andouille, Kielbasa, or other spicy sausage (optional) 

Slow method: rinse beans and soak in cold water overnight before cooking. Fast method: Instead of soaking overnight, rinse beans and throw in a pot of boiling water. Boil for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for at least 2 hours. Discard water.

Next, cover the beans in a pot with fresh water and bring to boil. Then add all other ingredients except salt and soy sauce. Reduce heat to a gentle boil and cover. Stir occasionally until beans are soft, adding more water if necessary.

Stir in salt and soy sauce. Adjust salt and seasoning, as needed. Toss in your faux sausage, if using and cook a few more minutes. Serve over rice.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pappa di Pomodoro (Rustic Italian Bread & Tomato Soup)

This is an old family recipe from a dear friend of mine. Her mom is straight off the boat from grand old Italy and shared it with me. I, in turn, hand it over to you, dear reader. Using garden-fresh tomatoes, good olive oil, and top-shelf Parmesan, this dish is as authentic as the Super Mario Brothers, body hair, and tax evasion. Kidding! Calm down. But one thing this soup is: amazing! It is hands-down my favorite Italian dish of all time! It's a total crowd-pleaser and is easier to fix than a Sicilian mafia betting pool. Try it!

Prep time: 3 cocktails

1/4 cup olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/3 onion, chopped finely
2 1/2 cups tomatoes, vine ripened chopped small (this is about 3-5 tomatoes)
5 large leaves fresh basil, minced
3 large celery stalks (with leaves) chopped in half to fit in pot
1/4 tsp black pepper
6 cups water
7 medium slices toasted rustic Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated very finely--only use top-quality cheese!
2 sprigs Italian parsley, minced

Heat the oil over medium-high in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. When warm, add garlic and onions. Saute until they begin to color a bit.

Add tomatoes, basil, celery, and pepper. Cover and simmer over low to medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add water and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, bring it back down to medium low and keep at a low boil, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove and discard celery. Add salt and bread. Cook 10 more minutes on low. Add Parmigiano and parsley. Simmer 5 more minutes and serve. Be a hero!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spot-on Seaweed Salad Dressing

I've been on a mission to create the perfect seaweed salad for some time. Virtually all seaweed salads you eat at sushi restaurants or buy at Asian grocers are imported--frozen--from one of a few big factories in China. While I love the crap outta some seaweed salad, I'm not a huge fan with the lack of freshness and factory production associated with these products. (Not to mention that the obnoxious Boulderite in me is bummed out with the carbon footprint involved with shipping frozen products 7000 miles). So I've embarked on what has become my life quest: to create the perfect seaweed salad from scratch. Basically, you can think of me as the King Arthur of salads. And after years of searching the vast wilds for the holy grail of seaweed salad dressings, I've found it! While it won't earn you immortal life, it will win ridiculous amounts of praise from all who are blessed enough to partake in this life-altering amazingness.

Prep time: pretty much nil

1 TBSP peanut oil
1 TBSP neutral oil, such as canola, grapeseed, avocado, or safflower
1 TBSP seasoned rice vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
3/4 tsp toasted sesame oil
A few pinches sesame seeds
A tiny dash agave nectar

Step 1: Combine everything into a small container with a airtight lid. Shake well and immediately toss with salad. 

Step 2: Try your best to handle the massive compliments and praise that come your way. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Vegetarian Hong You Chao Shou! Boom!

These spicy Szechuan tempeh wontons are amazing. Full stop. Ordinarily, these are made of pork, but this tempeh version is just as good (seriously). The origin of these dumplings (according to the interwebs) is that the Sichuanese traditionally wore wear large robes in cold weather under which they put their hands in the opposite sleeves to keep warm. This gesture--chao shou translates to 'folded hands'--resembles the shape of the dumpling with opposite corners of the wrapper pinched together. In fact, you can go into a restaurant in Sichuan to this day and wordlessly cross your arms and they'll bring you this dish, knowing exactly what you've just asked for by gesture alone. However, if you make it at home, you'll likely associate a massive fist pump and a dance around the dining room with this dish because that's what you'll do after tasting the first bite. It's that good.

Prep time: 3 cocktails

4 TBSP peanut oil
8 ounces tempeh, crumbled
2" piece of ginger grated with Microplane or finest side of cheese grater
5 cloves garlic, minced
White parts of 4-5 scallions, chopped
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
3 TBSP soy sauce
2 TBSP rice wine
1 egg, beaten
Store-bought wonton wrappers (you can use small for pot-stickers or big for egg rolls)

1-2 tsp toasted sesame oil
4 TBSP Hong You (Szechuan chili oil), recipe here
2 TBSP soy sauce
2-3 TBSP Zhenjiang (or Chinkiang) black vinegar (available at any Asian grocer)

A small drizzle of toasted sesame oil
Green parts of 4-5 scallions, sliced into small wheels
Sesame seeds (optional)

Heat peanut oil over medium-high heat in frying pan or wok. When hot, add tempeh and stir fry for about 2 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, and scallion whites. Continue to stir fry until tempeh begins to turn golden brown, about 3-5 more minutes. Stir in white pepper, soy sauce, and rice wine and cook for a few more seconds. Remove from heat and stir for a few more seconds.

Start the sauce by combining all sauce ingredients over low heat, stirring occasionally. Also, put medium to large pot with water on the stove to boil--this pot will be for boiling the wontons.

Now fold your mixture into wontons. If you're using big egg roll wontons, you'll use about 1/4 cup of tempeh mixture; if you're using small pot-sticker-size wontons, it'll be more like a TBSP of mixture. Place the mixture in the middle of each wonton sheet, then brush the edges of the dough with egg using a pastry brush. Now fold the wonton over to make a triangle and use your fingers to firmly seal the edges. Traditionally, you'll also fold the two points of the longest section of triangle back together and connect these tips to make a "cap" shape, but this step is optional.

Now gently lower the wontons into your pot of boiling water. Boil until they have had time to cook through--about 3 minutes for small wontons or 5-6 minutes for large wontons. Remove with slotted spoon. Serve with generous portion of sauce and add garnishes.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hong You (Szechuan chili oil)

Don't buy chili oil at the Asian grocer! That foul, artificially-colored garbage is the surest way to screw up an otherwise perfect Chinese meal! This takes only a few minutes to throw together and will keep almost indefinitely. Also, it is great as a finishing oil, in salad dressings or marinades, and can add awesomeness to just about any sauteed dish. Note, however, that you need a deep-frying or candy thermometer. You can get one for a few bucks at any kitchen store or big box store that sells kitchen stuff.

For the chilies, you can use plain chili flakes from any grocery store or go to an Asian market to buy specific types of chili flakes. You can also buy whole dried chilies and puree in a food processor.

Prep time: 1/2 cocktail

2 cups canola or peanut oil
3 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of your knife and peeled
6 1/2" sections of ginger, also smashed with the side of your knife
4 whole star anise pods
6-10 black cardamom seeds
6-8 whole cloves
1/2 cup chili flakes
1 cinnamon stick broken in half
1/2 tsp ground Szechuan peppercorns, (optional, grind in a cleaned coffee grinder after a brief dry fry)
1 tsp sea salt

Heat the oil (with the thermometer in it) in a small pan over medium heat until it reaches 285 Fahrenheit. AS SOON as it hits 285, remove from heat and add ginger and garlic. Don't stir.

While oil is heating or right after you add garlic and ginger, combine star anise, cardamom, cloves, chili flakes, broken cinnamon stick, and peppercorns in a small dish. AS SOON as the oil temperature drops to 250, add this dish of spices. Also, don't stir.

As soon as the temperature drops to 200, use a wooden spoon or tongs to fish out the ginger and garlic. If you don't do this, they'll cause the oil to go rancid over time.

Now let the oil cool to room temperature. Stir in salt. Transfer to a glass jar with good lid and let sit at least 24 hours before using. The taste will improve over time and it'll stay good unrefrigerated for at least 3 months. After three days, you can strain out all the solids if you think the taste is vibrant enough, but they can remain in as long as you want to continue to infuse the oil with additional flavor. Also, if the oil is too strong for you, dilute with a cup of plain canola oil.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The World's Most Amazing Vegetarian Cuban Black Beans

I was going to wax poetic for paragraphs about how wonderful these beans are, about how they have the potential to bring about world peace, about how they would delight even the most hardened serial murderer, and how, if there is ever a cure for cancer, it will likely involve this recipe in some way. But rather than ramble on at length about how good this is, I outsourced the job to Erin. Here's her take:

You might think "black beans, so what?" What's the point of spending time making beans from scratch when you can easily open a can? Who would ever know the difference? Wrong. Just...totally wrong. These are completely worth the time and I would challenge you to disagree once you've tried them. I have sampled black beans in almost every country in Central America, and these are seriously the most delicious I have ever tasted. The flavor is amazing, the sofrito is perfect. There is just enough kick to injure your enemy, but not cause any permanent damage. You'll probably want to put these on everything; don't let anyone try to stop you. Best beans ever. It doesn't hurt that the chef is pretty darn cute too.

Prep time: 2 cocktails

1 pound dry black beans
3 bay leaves
2 large bell peppers (green, red or one of each), coarsely chopped
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
2 Jalapeños, coarsely chopped
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 TBSP dried oregano
1 TBSP salt
2 tomatoes, finely chopped (optional)
¼ cup full-bodied red wine (shiraz, zinfandel, or cabernet sauvignon)
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
A few drops of liquid smoke (optional)

Soak the beans overnight. Drain and rinse well. Place beans in large Dutch oven with the bay leaves and top with water until beans are submerged. Bring the water to a boil on high heat. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle boil and cook the beans uncovered, stirring occasionally until beans soften—this can take all day, depending on your beans and elevation (you can prepare the beans in a pressure cooker to save a lot of time). As you cook, keep topping off the water when it drops below the beans.

While your beans are cooking, you want to make your sofrito. Sofrito is a simmered, fragrant sauce and a critical element in many Latin American cuisines. To whip it up, place the bell pepper, onion, cilantro and jalapeños in a food processor and process until everything’s broken down, but still a bit chunky—don’t make a smooth sauce. Next, over medium heat, warm up a large frying pan with the olive oil in it. When hot, add the bell pepper/onion mixture. Sauté, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Next stir in the cumin, oregano, salt, and tomato (if using). Continue stirring frequently another 5 minutes. Viola! You just made sofrito. Remove from heat and have a rewarding sip of the cocktail you're enjoying.

When beans are almost completely cooked in the pot, add your sofrito, red wine, and balsamic vinegar. Stir frequently and cook another 30 minutes until the beans are fully cooked, you have the desired amount of liquid, and the flavors have all mingled. Adjust any seasoning and add a little liquid smoke to taste (if using) before serving.

Smoked Haitian Rice

Rice with native mushrooms and smoked meat is common in Haiti. Instead of native mushrooms, I use shiitake; in place of pork, I chose liquid smoke; and rather than using the traditional white rice, I go with far awesomer Bhutanese red rice (available at most natural grocers). The result is a nutty, smoky, earthy flavor that as a great contrast to the spicy and sweet notes in other Caribbean dishes, especially Cuban Black Beans or Vegetarian Jamaican Curried Goat

Prep time: 1 cocktail

3 TBSP peanut or vegetable oil
¼ cup onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup Bhutanese red rice
1/2 cup shiitake mushrooms, chopped coarsely
16 drops liquid smoke
2 cups veggie stock
Several good grinds of pepper
¼ cup coarsely chopped pecans or macadamia nuts
1 scallion, chopped

Heat oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. When warm, add onion and sauté for two minutes, or until they begin to turn just slightly transparent. Add garlic and sauté another minute. Stir in rice and continue to stir constantly until rice starts to change color and gives off a nice toasted aroma, about 3-4 minutes.

Add mushrooms, liquid smoke, veggie stock, and pepper. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover until the rice is fully cooked—about 45 minutes.

When it’s done, remove from heat, add nuts and scallion and fluff everything well with a fork. Adjust liquid smoke or salt as necessary.