Blazing Hot Wok

Without my wok, I might starve.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Korean Spiced Tofu

I know what you’re thinking. Tofu?! Ugh!

Why does tofu get a bad wrap? I love it. I love the different textures it can assume. I love the way it absorbs flavors like a sponge. And apparently, it can give you an orgasm in your mouth. (Click on the link to see a hilariously compelling advertisement my neighbor stumbled upon; you won’t be disappointed!) ☺

This simple Korean dish is one of my favorite ways to eat tofu. The tofu is first lightly fried then simmered in a soy sauce spiked with garlic, green onions, sesame and Korean chili flakes. It absorbs the sauce beautifully and has a texture a little like steamed eggs. Totally easy and tasty.

One important thing to note is the use of Korean chili flakes (gochugaru), which are different from the chili flakes we like on our pizza or in pasta dishes. The Korean version doesn't really have seeds so it doesn't pack the same heat. However there are spicy versions, which would be indicated on the packaging. I don't think the two taste a like, so substituting the regular red pepper flakes will not give the same result to the dish. I think it's worth it to take a trip to your local Korean or Japanese grocery to pick up a bag.

Korean red pepper flakes (left) vs. regular red chili flakes.

Tubu Choerim (Fried spiced tofu)
Adapted from The Korean Kitchen
  • 1 block firm (not extra firm) tofu, sliced into ½ inch rectangles
  • 3 tbs soy sauce (I used low sodium tamari) mixed with an equal volume water
  • 2 tsp Korean chili flakes (or more to taste)
  • ½ tbs toasted sesame oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped into a paste
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 5 to 8 scallions, cut into 2-inch segments
  • 1 tbs toasted sesame seeds
Lay the sliced tofu out on paper towels and lightly sprinkle with salt. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes. This will draw out some of the excess water. Blot the slices with a paper towel before frying.

Make the sauce by combining the soy, chili flakes, sesame oil, garlic and sugar in a small bowl.

In a hot frying pan (something that is non-stick; I used well seasoned cast iron), fry the tofu slices in about 2 tbs oil for about 3 minutes on each side. The goal is not to get a crispy crust, just cook the tofu so it’s not raw. Add the scallions and fry for another minute. Add the sauce and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer until most of the liquid evaporates, flipping the tofu slices at least once during the process. We like it a bit saucy, so I don’t let the liquid evaporate all the way down. Throw in the sesame seeds and remove the tofu to a serving platter. Ladle the sauce over. Serve warm or at room temp.

This makes a wonderful side dish in a multicourse meal, but it’s just as filling when eaten alone with steamed short-grain rice and a few fresh cucumber slices (or tomato slices) or Korean pickles.

This is my submission to Regional Recipes, where the spotlight is on Korean food. The host this round is Wandering Chopsticks. If you’d like to participate, send your submission to wanderingchopsticks(at)gmail(dot)com by midnight, June 15th.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Saucy Broccoli and Tofu Stir-fry

We eat a lot of broccoli in this house. It’s one of the vegetables my son will actually eat without a lot of bitching and moaning. It might be a bit boring as far as vegetables go, but it does often save me a trip to the Asian market because it’s a good substitute for Asian broccoli. Not quit as sharp as the Asian varieties, but that’s made up for with a wonderful texture. If you haven’t tried biting into a tender-crisp piece of stir-fried broccoli, the sauce that’s trapped in the floret releasing into your mouth, then you’ve missed out. That’s not an exaggeration.

Try this easy stir-fry and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

I found this stir-fry in Martin Yan’s latest cookbook, Martin Yan's China. He originally presents this as a shrimp stir-fry, but in an effort to eat less meat, I decided to use tofu and broccoli. In fact, if you substitute the chicken stock with vegetable stock or water, this would be a vegan dish! Imagine that?!

Saucy Broccoli and Tofu Stir-fry
Adapated from Martin Yan’s China
Serves 3
  • 1 block firm tofu, drained and cut into cubes
  • 2 to 3 cups of broccoli (more if you’d like), cut for stir-frying
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • ¼ cup ketchup (see note)
  • ¼ cup Chinese rice wine
  • ¼ cup chicken broth
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 to 2 tbs chili garlic sauce (see note)
  • ½ tbs sugar (more to taste)
  • squirt of toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp soy sauce (more to taste)
Note: Those who turn their noses up to using ketchup in Asian cooking should not be so snobby. It can work beautifully, like in this dish. Remember, if it's good enough for Martin Yan, it's good enough for you. Also, if you haven’t figured it out, there is a difference between the Chinese andd Vietnamese version of chili garlic sauce. Lee Kum Kee is probably the most popular Chinese version here in the States. We don’t think it’s very spicy and are able to use the full 2 tbs in this dish. The Vietnamese version is a heck of a lot spicier, and the one I prefer, but if I use 2 tbs in anything, Sonny wouldn’t be able to eat. The choice is yours; both work well.

Start by heating a wok over medium-high heat. Add 2 to 3 tbs oil and when hot add the tofu. Fry the tofu, turning only every minute or so. This will allow it to sear so that the outside is semi-crisp and the inside is soft. It may take 10 minutes to get them browned to your liking.

While the tofu is cooking, make the sauce. Start by dissolving the cornstarch in the broth and soy sauce. Add the ketchup, rice wine, chili garlic sauce, sugar and sesame oil. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Adjust the flavor to your liking by adding more of any of the ingredients. Bare in mind that the rice wine may seem strong, but it will evaporate once cooked. Set aside until needed.

Once the tofu is browned to your liking, add the broccoli and stir-fry until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Better to undercook than overcook because you’ll be giving it a little more time at the end. Remove everything to a bowl.

Turn up the heat. To the wok, add another tbs of oil and the garlic. Fry for just a few seconds, making sure it doesn’t burn. Add the sauce mix and allow to reduce until it thickens. This shouldn’t take too long if your wok is hot. Add the tofu and broccoli back in and stir to coat. Cook for about another minute. There should be a nice sauce and it should be quite thick. Remove from heat and serve immediate with steamed rice.

I'm submitting this dish to Weekend Wokking, a food blogging event created by Wandering Chopsticks that spotlights a theme ingredient. The host this round is Wiffy of Noob Cook and the theme ingredient is broccoli. If you're interested in participating in the future, check out Wiffy's blog for the round-up, which will be posted on Dec 3. You'll get to see all the delicious entries and the next secret ingredient will be revealed!

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Tasty Meal for Under $10!

Citymama’s $10 food challenge has been quite eye opening. I knew that I could make a delicious dinner for my family within that budget, but I was curious to see how far that would really take me. Would I be able to squeeze in more than just an entrée? Would I have to cut out the meat? I was surprised at what I found.

The dish I decided to make was pan-fried udon noodles. I made this dish a couple of weeks ago using beef, shitake mushrooms and broccoli, but of course I didn’t calculate how much it cost. I assumed it would put me over the $10 limit, so I decided to do it with tofu this time. We’re trying to eat less meat anyways. As it turns out, made with tofu, broccoli and carrots, the dish came in at $5.64, well under the $10 limit. With over $4 left over, I could squeeze in a simple salad (lettuce and cucumber sprinkled with sesame seeds) with nice a miso dressing. A balanced, tasty meal for $10!

Since I came in far under budget with the vegetarian version, I wondered how much it would cost to do it with beef. My preference is to use grass-fed beef (chuck steak), which cost $5.99/ lb at Whole Foods. The same cut of conventional beef at Safeway was $5.29 / lb. I expected the difference to be bigger. The big surprise, though, was Safeway’s price for stir-fry cut beef, over $7/ lb!!! It definitely pays to cut it yourself. Besides, they use a machine to cut the beef, rather than purposely cutting against the grain. Big no no, unless you like tough meat. Long story short—using 10 ounces of grass-fed beef still kept the price under $10 ($8.24 to be exact). Not enough left over to squeeze in the salad, but as Hubby pointed out, enough for a beer with his meal.

One way I keep costs down is to shop around. Whole Foods and Safeway are convenient for me, so that’s where I end up the most. I’ll make a trip to a big Asian supermarket (usually Fubonn or Uwajimaya) every couple of weeks or so. I could get a lot of my Asian sauces at the other two, but I rarely do. Asian products are cheaper at an Asian market. Here is an example. Mirin costs $3.58 for a 17-oz bottle at Fubonn. At Safeway and Whole Foods it’s $5.49 and $8.99 for only 10.5 ounces, respectively. I once saw Sriracha for $5.99 for a 28oz bottle at a local supermarket, but it’s only $2.58 for the same size at Fubonn. It’s smart to get to familiar with your local ethnic markets, no?

If you 're interested to see the cost breakdown, click on the file link 10dollarchallenge.doc.
You'll see the prices I paid, the amounts I used and where I got the item.

If you want more $10 meal ideas, check out Citymama’s site in the next couple of days to see the round-up.

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Monday, June 2, 2008

Soba Salad with Gochujang Vinaigrette

Hubby and I recently had an interesting conversation about food, things like what we're eating and spending on food. I think I'm fairly good at maximizing the food while minimizing the money, but we could definitely do more. For one thing, we can bring lunch and snacks to work. I usually already do this because my campus doesn't have any food options besides vending machines. Hubby works right next to a food court and a block of restaurants, so he's in the habit of going to lunch. I've always been willing to pack his lunch, but I think there was a lot of peer pressure from his coworkers to go out to eat. But now he wants to bring his lunch, and I couldn't be happier. I'm planning on getting some bento boxes and making it fun and interesting. Doesn't it sound like I'll be packing lunch for a kid? Who knows, maybe he can convince some of his coworkers that the cool kids bring their lunch to work?? How about you? Do you bring your lunch to work?

Since we've had access to so much lettuce lately, it's only natural we'll be bringing salad for lunch. One of the salads I threw together was a soba salad. I know that sounds a little strange, but I’ll tell you why it worked. The baby lettuce I've been getting at the farmers' market actually has flavor! Some taste like mustard greens, others taste subtly sweet, and some have a more familiar lettuce taste. They remind me more of herbs than lettuce. Tossed with the soba and a tasty dressing, it just worked. If you don’t have delicious baby lettuce available, try tossing the noodles with cabbage chiffonade, shredded carrot and finely sliced green onions. Another option is fresh asparagus thinly sliced on the diagonal or fresh sugar snap peas. I left ours "vegetarian" but you could throw in some meat or seafood. Whatever tickles your fancy.

The dressing I threw together is just a variation of my peanut vinaigrette. Yes, I know it’s cheating, but I’m lazy like that. I substituted the peanut butter with Korean hot pepper paste, and nixed the curry powder. Doing so little completely changed the flavor. The result is a little sweet, a little spicy (but not too much for Sonny to eat), a little salty and a little nutty from the sesame oil. If you like Korean flavors, I think you’ll enjoy this.

Gochu jang (Korean hot pepper paste) Vinaigrette
makes about 1/2 to 1 cup
  • 1 to 2 tbs Korean hot pepper paste
  • 1 tbs honey
  • 1 tbs sesame oil
  • 3 tbs rice vinegar
  • 1 tbs tamari
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ to 1/3 cup peanut (or a neutral oil)
  • soba noodles, cooked according to package directions
  • baby lettuce or other vegetables for the salad
  • toasted sesame seeds for garnish
  • cilantro for garnish
To make the dressing, combine everything in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth. Taste the mixture and adjust according to your preference (more tamari, honey, etc). If you're happy, start adding the peanut oil slowly all the while whisking to incorporate it. You may not need to add all of it.

To serve, toss the noodles in some dressing and set them atop your lettuce/vegetables. Top with your garnishes and drizzle more dressing on top, if desired.

I’m going to submit this to Weekend Herb Blogging , which was created by Kayln's Kitchen and is currently being hosted by maninas:food matters. It’s a weekly event, so there’s always a chance to participate! Click here to see who's hosting in the coming weeks.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tomato Soup Everybody Can Enjoy

It’s hard being the sole cook in the family. Having to come up with nutritious, delicious meals that both adults and kids will eat is not as easy as it sounds. And what about the shopping? Sure, it’s great if I have time to stroll around a store, but normally I shop during my lunch break. If speed shopping where a sport, I’d win gold. Did I mention I do it 2 or 3 times a week? I’ve found that if I buy for the whole week, a lot of food goes to waste. So I shop for only 2 or 3 days at a time. Then I get home from work and have to throw it all together. Anyone else in the same boat?

If it were up to me, we’d probably eat rice and a spicy stir-fry 6 days a week. But that wouldn’t go over very well with the boys. Nor is it a varied diet, is it? Once or twice a week I ask Sonny what he’d like for dinner. Allowing him to choose gives me a little break from having to come up with something. Even if it’s something I don’t feel like eating, I’ll make it. A kid has got to be allowed to choose every once in a while, right? Today he wanted tomato soup, and even though I wasn’t in the mood for it, I threw one together. To keep it interesting, I added a few Mexican spices. I got the inspiration off the back of a commercially available tomato soup, of all places.

When I make tomato soup, I like to use the sweetest tomatoes available. Unfortunately, tomato season isn’t until July or August. My own tomatoes won’t even be ready until August or even early September. Rather than use overpriced, bland, grocery store tomatoes, I used fire-roasted canned tomatoes. I think they worked out great, adding a little extra complexity to the soup.

Tomato Soup with Mexican Spices
feeds 4 to 6
  • 1 tsp chile powder
  • 2 tsp ground cumin, toasted
  • 1 tbs dried (Mexican) oregano
  • 3 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2 28oz cans fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 ½ cups vegetable or chicken stock or water
  • salt as needed, about 2 tsp
  • honey as needed, about 2-3 tbs
In a large pot over medium heat, add about 2 or 3 tbs of olive oil. When it’s hot, add the onions and fry them until they are well caramelized. It may take about 15 minutes or so. Don’t skimp on this step because the onions are a large flavor component of the soup. Canned tomatoes, even good quality ones, are not very sweet so the caramelized onions need to make up for this. Add the garlic and spices and continue to cook for about a minute more.

Put the onion mixture and tomatoes into a blender and process it until smooth. To get a smooth soup, strain it through a fine mesh strainer back into the pot. I never waste solids; I always freeze them and use them later in something. Put the pot back on the stove, add the stock or water and season with salt. If the soup is too acidic for your taste, add honey (or sugar) as needed. Bring the soup to a boil then let it simmer for 10 minutes or so. Ideally you would make this soup a day or so in advance to allow the flavors to meld, but we still enjoyed it the same day. For an extra touch, you could sauté up some Mexican chorizo and add it in.

Serve with homemade Mexican crema (or sour cream), grated cheddar cheese, chopped cilantro and crusty bread.

This soup freezes beautifully, so if you make more than you can eat, freeze it for a day when you don’t feel like cooking.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Eat Your Greens: Saag Paneer

My absolute favorite Indian dish is saag paneer (or gosht). But one thing I’ve come to learn is the wonderful creaminess I get at the Indian restaurant is actually harder to replicate at home than I thought. Maybe it’s just me??

This time around, I used lamb because I didn't have any paneer. If you want to use lamb, I recommend braising it separately then adding it back into the saag.

When I encounter a difficult or involved recipe, I take it as a challenge. I usually look for ways to cut down on the prep time or slim it down. For this dish I didn't want to do either. I just wanted to get it right. It's taken a few times to get results I'm happy with. Here are some observations that someone out there might find useful.

1) There seems to be many versions; some have a long list of spices while the simplest I’ve run across just has chilies, ginger and salt. I’ve come to realize that it’s not so much the list of spices as it is an adequate dose of salt. With that said, I do like adding “sweet” spices like cinnamon and cloves because they add a little complexity to the dish.

2) The only way to achieve that smooth, creamy texture is to process the saag, even if you started with chopped greens. I find using ghee gives the best flavor and texture, but I also like mustard oil. Cream also works. If using ghee, use it at the beginning in place of oil while the cream would be added during cooking. Yogurt just seems to curdle, so I avoid it.

3) This dish is best made a day or two in advance. Like a good stew or chili, I find the flavors are enhanced when they are allowed to sit and meld. In fact, it tastes even better after it’s been frozen and reheated! So if you end up making more than you can eat, freeze some and you’ll see.

4) The flavor is better if you use a combination of spinach and mustard greens or kale. I don’t recommend collard greens; I think they give the dish a funky taste.

Saag Paneer
Serves 6
  • 4 tbs ghee or 2 tbs mustard oil + 2 tbs vegetable oil (optional)
  • green chilies (use as many or as little as you want), split lengthwise (remove seeds for less heat)
  • 1 onion, grated or finely chopped
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 2 x 3-inch stick cinnamon
  • 5 cardamom pods
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ tbs grated ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbs tomato paste
  • 2 frozen packages chopped spinach, thawed and liquid squeezed out
  • 1 bunch kale or mustard greens, de-stalked and chopped
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream (optional)
  • 1 portion paneer, cubed (either homemade or store-bought is fine)
  • salt to taste
In a Dutch oven (or the like), ghee (or just regular old vegetable oil) over medium heat. When hot add the chilies, onion, fenugreek, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Sautee until the onion begins to brown slightly. Adjust the heat if necessary to prevent burning. Add the garlic and ginger and continue to cook for about 1 minute. There should be a nice fragrance coming from the pot. Add the dry spices and mix to thoroughly combine. Add the tomato paste and greens. Mix well. Add about 1 to 2 cups water (the amount will depend on how big your pot is) to give about ½ inch of liquid above the greens. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to allow the greens to simmer, partially covered, for about 30 to 45 minutes (longer is better). Stir it occasionally. When the water evaporates, add either the cream or a little more water. By the end of the cooking time, the greens should be tender and most of the liquid should be evaporated. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and allow it to sit for about 15 minutes (or for a day or two). Now is the time I would add salt. I find it's hard to gauge the spice and salt level when foods are piping hot. Start with a half teaspoon then add more according to your preference.

Whether you let it sit for 15 minutes or overnight, I recommend processing the saag in a food processor or with a stick blender to get the “perfect” consistency. This is optional. Just be sure to remove the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods (if you can find them) before blending! If you’re planning on freezing, now’s the time to put some aside.

Before serving, fry the paneer in a little bit of oil (or ghee) until browned on all sides. Drain on paper towels. Check the saag again to make sure it's the consistency you want. If you prefer, add a little more water to thin it out. Add the paneer to the saag and mix gently.

Serve with basmati rice or Indian bread of your choice.

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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Easy Rice Noodle Stir-fry: Pad Se-ew

I added some tips (in bold) to make this recipe easier to follow. Let me know if it helps.

Happy New Year!

I know. I know. I’m late. I had every intention of posting sooner with my food-related favs of 2007 and resolutions for 2008, but that boat came and went and it seems a little untimely to do it now.

Instead I’ll tell you about one of my fav noodle dishes when I was a kid. It’s called pad se ew. This is the noodle dish mom made most often, probably because it’s so easy. Unlike pad Thai, the list of ingredients is relatively short. It’s also one of those dishes that gives you some flexibility with the ingredients. Mom always used Chinese broccoli, which doesn’t look or really taste like regular broccoli. It looks more like collard greens but tastes more like kale. If you can't get Chinese broccoli, kale, broccoli, broccolini or even asparagus will do. For the protein, you could use chicken, pork or tofu. I prefer to use fresh rice noodles (also called chow fun noodles), but you could always soak the dry rice noodles (like for pad Thai).

The main flavoring ingredient in this stir-fry is a mushroom flavored soy sauce. It has a smoother taste than regular soy sauce and I think that why it’s also referred to as light soy sauce (not to be confused with Chinese light soy sauce, which doesn't contain mushroom). It's actually thin soy sauce co-fermented with mushrooms. Mom always called it Healthy Boy, which is actually the brand she used. In fact, I don't know if there is another brand?? Unfortunately, I don’t think many grocery stores stock it, so you’ll need to visit your local Asian grocer. Or you could pay a little more and buy it online. BTW, this mushroom soy sauce is a great substitution for regular soy sauce in many stir-fries. Try it in fried rice and you’ll see.

Mushroom soy sauce is not as harsh as regular soy sauce in the same way that kosher salt is not as harsh as regular iodized salt.

Pad Se-ew with Broccoli and Tofu
Serves 4
  • 2 tsp regular soy sauce
  • 3 tbs mushroom flavored soy sauce (also referred to as light soy sauce)
  • 2 tsp sugar (I prefer brown, but white is fine)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ block tofu, cubed (or the protein of your choice)
  • 1 to 2 eggs, lightly beaten (depending on how much you like eggs)
  • 1 to 2 cups broccoli florets (or one bunch washed and well-dried kale or Chinese broccoli)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 pound fresh, wide rice noodles (also called chow fun), strands separated (or about 8 oz dried wide rice sticks, soaked in boiling water until semi-soft, drained well and lightly oiled to prevent sticking*)
Make the sauce by mixing the soy sauce, mushroom soy sauce and sugar together. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Set aside, but remember to stir it before using. [BTW, I always recommend making a double portion of the sauce mix. Everyone has a different preference for salt. You may feel like you want to use more sauce and it's annoying to rush around throwing more sauce together when you're stir-frying. You can spike the leftover sauce with some chili garlic sauce or sambal and use as a condiment.]

In a hot wok over high heat, add about 1 or 2 tbs oil (don’t use olive oil; it sucks for stir-frying). When it’s smoking, add the broccoli and stir-fry for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want it to be tender-crisp (more crisp than tender because you’ll cook it further later). Remove it from the wok and set it aside.

Add 2 more tablespoons oil to the wok. When hot, add the tofu (or meat). Stir-fry, stirring only occasionally, until the tofu begins to brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and continue for 30 seconds. Slowly drizzle the egg down the sides of the wok and cook until they are just set. Add the noodles and pre-cooked broccoli and stir-fry for a minute or two, until the noodles begin to soften. Add half to 2/3 of the sauce mix and stir-fry to coat the noodles. Taste the noodles and add more sauce mix if necessary. It's done when the noodles are cooked through. Serve immediately.

Don’t forget to serve with accompaniments, such as roughly ground chili pepper and wedge of lime. My favorite is a vinegar chili sauce, which you've probably seen at noodle houses. A quick version of the sauce can be made by combining 1 tbs fish sauce, 1 tbs rice vinegar, 2 tsp sugar and fresh or jarred jalapeno peppers to taste. If you have extra sauce, try spiking it with chili garlic sauce or sambal and serving as a condiment.

*You may want to read the post I did, which compared the fresh rice noodles to the rice sticks. Here is the link.

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Yummy Sweet Potato Cakes

Yesterday was supposed to be the last day of my clean-out-the-freezer challenge, but I had to work and we had a Christmas party to attend so today is the finale. Hooray!

Today’s freezer item was the black bean soup I made back in September. Before adding the chorizo, I took a portion to freeze. This time we had it just as it was, without chorizo, and it was still a hearty and delicious lunch.

Black bean soup with cumin

I’m supposed to start the pantry challenge today, but I’ve been thinking that it might be more relevant to do some posts about foods to bring to holiday potlucks. Besides, I don’t think I could handle it if I had to post something for another 7 days in a row. I give props to ya’ll that did it for the entire month of November.

Back to potluck foods…I was flipping through the latest issue of Saveur and was inspired by a recipe for latkes. Instead of using regular potatoes and chives, I thought it would be interesting to use sweet potatoes and cilantro. I was surprised at how delicious they were. I'm not a big potato eater, but I will definitely be making these again soon. When you bite into the cakes, the outsides are crispy and the insides are soft, like a good hash brown. The cilantro gives them a fresh taste. And they are a very good potluck food: very transportable and can be served at room temp.

Sweet potato cakes with cilantro and chili-sour cream sauce

Sweet potato pancakes
makes about 25 appetizer-sized cakes
  • 2 ½ pounds sweet potatoes, grated
  • 1 onion, grated
  • 3 tbs fine plain bread crumbs or finely ground plain cracker crumbs
  • ½ to 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tsp salt
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • oil for frying
Combine the grated sweet potatoes and onion in a large bowl. Using a cheese cloth or very clean kitchen towel, squeeze as much of the liquid out as humanly possible (it’s more effective if you work in small batches). Reserve the liquid in a medium-sized bowl.

When you have squeezed out all the liquid from the sweet potatoes, set them aside until needed. Let the liquid sit for about 10 minutes to allow the starch to settle then carefully pour off the liquid.

To the bowl with the sweet potatoes and onion, add the bread crumbs, cilantro, eggs, salt, pepper and reserved starch. Mix well.

The mixture will appear dry, but don't worry, the cakes won't fall apart when you cook them.

When forming the cakes, don’t make them too thick, maybe about 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Fry the cakes in a skillet in about ¼ inch of oil over medium heat. You may have to play with the heat to keep the cakes from browning too quickly, otherwise the inside will be raw (if you find the cakes aren’t cooked through, throw them into a 350º oven for about 10 minutes or until they’re done). Drain on paper towels or on a rack placed above a cookie sheet.

Unless you've got all day, you may want to bust out more than one frying pan.

These sweet potato cakes are good on their own or with a dollop of sour cream. If you want a little more spice, trying combining 2 tbs sour cream with 1 tbs mayo, a tsp chili-garlic sauce, a squeeze of lime and a little salt to taste.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Clean-Out-the-Freezer-Challenge Day 3

Before I get to the food, I just need to rant about some technical difficulties I’ve been having with my Blogger template. I’ll be the first to admit that the problems probably stem from my ineptitude with all things computer related, but why is it that what I see when I’m writing the post is not what I see when I preview it? What’s more, the final post looks nothing like the two other views. I spend all this time trying to get everything just right and it usually doesn’t end up looking like I expect. All my pictures get shoved around and the text formatting is all funky. The spacing is always weird. The Blogger help pages end up confusing me more than being a help because I don’t understand half of what they are saying. I just can’t figure it out, and it’s driving me crazy!!!


Okay, today’s freezer items were Indian vegetable smash and lamb for stewing. The vegetable smash I made back in September, and it tasted as good (maybe even better) as the first time around.

Vegetable smash

I used the lamb to make lentils and lamb. The earthiness of the lentils goes so well with the flavor of the lamb. If you prefer you can make this a vegetarian dish, which is normally how I make it.

Masoor Dal

Indian-spiced lentils
  • ½ medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 knob ginger, finely grated (totaling ½ tbs)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbs mustard oil
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • cups split lentils, picked over for stones and briefly rinsed
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp garam masala
  • ½ to 3/4 pound lamb for stewing (optional)
I like to cook the lamb separately from the lentils then combine them at the end. Use a pot with a lid that is large enough to cover the lamb with water. Add a cinnamon stick, 3 or 4 whole cloves and bring to a boil. Once it boils, put the lid on and stick the pot in a 325º oven for 1 ½ hours or until tender.

In a heavy-bottom pot over medium heat, add the mustard oil and about 1 or 2 more tablespoons of a neutral oil. When hot, add the onion, ginger, garlic, cinnamon stick, cloves and cardamom pods. Fry until the onions are soft and begin to get lightly browned. Turn down the heat if the garlic and ginger begin to burn. Once the onions are soft, add the cumin, coriander and chili powder. Cook for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, mixing well to coat the onion mixture. Add the rinsed lentils and stir to combine with the onion mixture. Add about 2 cups of water to begin. Bring the pot to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer. Allow the lentils to simmer, stirring occasionally If the lentils absorb all the water before they are done add more water, about ½ to 1 cup at a time. It usually takes less than 30 minutes to cook the lentils. Once they are done, add salt to taste and the garam masala and turn off the heat. When the lamb is done, add it to the lentils, give it a quick stir and it’s done. Enjoy with an Indian bread of your choice.

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Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Tastiest Tomato Pickles Ever!

The air in the morning is crisp and the days are getting shorter, yet my tomato plants have managed to hang on. Sure, I only pluck a pint of cherry tomatoes every 3 or 4 days now (opposed to at least 2 pints per day at the height of the season), but they are still surprisingly sweet and juicy. Even my larger heirloom varieties are continuing to slowly ripen. But the rains have started and I think all this goodness won't last much longer.

This year, we’ve been able to produce so many tomatoes I had to give a lot away. That's after making sauces and soups to last into the winter months. Since I’m pretty much stocked up on the basics, I wanted to try some different things with the tomatoes. My favorite was this recipe. I could tell it was going to be good before I tasted it. The spice mix was so aromatic when it was cooking up. It complements sweet tomatoes so well, but I think it would be just as good with green tomatoes. Next time I’m going to make a big batch and can some of it so I can crack open a jar whenever I want.

Tomatoes Pickled with Indian Spices
  • 1 ½ lbs tomatoes (cut larger tomatoes into wedges)
  • ½ red or yellow onion, cut in thin wedges
  • 5 serrano chilies, sliced lengthwise
  • ¾ cup white vinegar
  • ¼ cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbs kosher salt
  • 2 tbs grated ginger
  • 1 whole head garlic, minced
  • 1 tbs cracked black peppercorns
  • 1 ½ tbs cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 x 3 inch cinnamon stick
  • ½ cup neutral oil (canola, grapeseed, etc)
  • 2 tbs mustard oil
If you are using larger tomatoes, cut them into wedges. Cherry tomatoes can be used whole. Combine the tomatoes with the chilies and onions in a large Pyrex bowl. Set aside.

In a saucepan, dissolved the sugar and salt in the vinegar. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a saucepan or small frying pan, heat the oils over medium heat until hot. Add the cumin seeds, black peppercorns and cinnamon. Fry for about 30 seconds. Then add the garlic, ginger and cayenne. Cook until nice and fragrant, about 2 minutes (it should look like this). Turn off the heat and add the vinegar solution and mix well. Pour the warm mixture over the tomatoes and mix well. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let the mixture sit in the fridge for at least 3 days. If the tomatoes are not submerged in the pickling solution, give the mixture a stir every day.

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Saturday, September 1, 2007

Vegetable Smash

I have a coworker who makes the most delicious home cooked vegetarian Indian food. Not only is everything always nicely spiced, but the texture is right on, and I think that’s the hardest thing to achieve in Indian cooking (for me, at least). The simple fact is the longer the preparation time, the more “authentic” the texture will be. The longer the ingredients sit together, the more developed the flavor will be. My coworker agrees, but even he doesn’t have the patience to braise every dish for 2-3 hours or prepare dishes a day or two in advance. He told me his secret is a pressure cooker, which scares the hell out of me. Whenever I think pressure cooker, I imagine a hot radiator exploding open to spray scalding water in my face (yes, I’m scared of explosions and that’s why we don’t have a gas grill).

The other day, he brought a wonderful dish, which he translated as vegetable smash. As the name implies, it was a wonderful mish-mash of different veggies that could easily be found in your favorite Indian restaurant. Some of the vegetables suitable for this dish are parsnips, turnips, cauliflower, potatoes, peas, zucchini, squash. To get the best results, make it a day in advance and when you cook it drive off as much liquid as you can. Then when you reheat it the next day, do it in a wok or cast iron skillet with a tablespoon or two more oil (I used mustard oil, and it tasted nice). This will further reduce the water content and give you the best texture.

Sounds like a lot of work, right? I guess it is, but you’ll be rewarded with not only a delicious dish, but this recipe will give 2 portions (enough for 3-4 people each). You could freeze one down and enjoy it again. So really you’re cooking more than one meal!

Vegetable Smash
  • 2 tbs grated ginger
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 2 chilies (or more to taste), cut in half lengthwise
  • 5 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
  • 2 sticks cinnamon (about 3 inches long)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 tbs curry powder
  • 1 small head cauliflower, cut into small pieces
  • 3 zucchini, diced
  • 4-5 ripe tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped
  • ¼ to ½ tsp sugar (depending on how ripe your veggies are to start)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)
Start by making a paste with the ginger, garlic and chilies.

In a large heavy bottom pot, heat about ¼ cup oil over medium heat (I used half mustard oil and half vegetable oil). When hot, add the cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods. Fry for about 15 seconds, then add the ginger paste. Fry until fragrant, maybe 20 or 30 seconds. Add the chopped onion and cook until the onions are soft and starting to take color. Add the curry powder and turn to coat the onions with it. Add the cauliflower, zucchini, tomatoes and sugar. Stir well and cook for about 5 minutes, turning to make sure everything gets coated as best as possible. If the pot seems too dry, don't worry, the veggies will release a lot of liquid. Turn down the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for about an hour or until the veggies are nice and soft. Check and stir it occasionally to make sure the bottom of the pot doesn’t burn and to smash the veggies a little. The veggies should release a lot of liquid, and essentially braise themselves. When they are mushy, take off the lid and turn up the heat to drive off most of the moisture, but be careful not to let it burn too much to the bottom of the pot. Whenever you’re stirring, smash the veggies a little more. Eventually you’ll get the consistency you want. For the best result, let it sit in the fridge overnight to let the flavors develop. You could also freeze some at this point, but if you are dying to eat it immediately, I recommend cooling it a bit before adjusting the seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve warm or even just a little above room temp with basmati rice or roti.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Nevermind the Scorching Heat

I know it’s not time for hot soup. The mercury's pushing 90+, but Sonny has been asking for tomato soup and I wanted to make some comfort food for a friend who just had a baby. You know, a two-birds-with-one-stone situation.

Tomato Soup
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 10 large tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch basil (or 1 healthy handful)
  • 2 cups water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • honey or sugar (optional)
In a large Dutch oven or other heavy bottom large pot over medium heat, add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot in a thin coat. Add the onions and cook until they are well caramelized. This could take 20 minutes for more. It’s okay if they take on color; just don’t let them burn. Add the vinegar and allow to reduce until almost completely evaporated. Add the garlic, tomatoes, basil and water. Bring to a boil, put the lid on and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for at least 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool slightly before blending with a stick blender (or in a regular blender). I always run the soup through a sieve to give a smooth texture (this is optional). If you do this, you can add some of the solids back in to give a thicker texture (try about 1/4 cup). Season the soup well with salt and pepper. If you used sweet onions and tomatoes, you probably won’t have to add honey, but add a little to cut the acidity if you think it needs it. I recommend serving it warm to lukewarm (not piping hot).

I love serving this soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. See that sandwich in the picture? It is made with the best tasting toasting bread I’ve ever had. I got it at Delphina's at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market. It's got polenta and rice, and it’s dense and slightly sweet. Reminds me of the wonderful fresh baked breads I had in Denmark. When toasted, all the different flavors stand out yet complement each other nicely. A little pricey, but worth it for artisan bread.

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Yes, I Do Call This Cooking

I’m the big tree-hugging tofu eater in our house. Hubby will eat it in a stir-fry, but only because he’s too lazy to pick it out. Sonny won’t touch it, no matter how I serve it (maybe I should try serving it with chocolate sauce??).

One of my favorite ways to eat tofu is fresh, with a nice dipping sauce and big bowl of Japanese sticky rice. My current favorite dipping sauce is a Korean one I first made here. It's so easy and as hubby pointed out, doesn't require any real cooking.

Korean Dipping Sauce
¼ cup Korean chili bean paste
1 tbs minced garlic
½ tbs minced ginger
2 tbs rice vinegar
2 tbs sugar
2 tbs soy sauce
2 tbs sesame oil
5 green onions, chopped
handful cilantro, chopped
½ cup canola oil (or other neutral oil)
juice from about 2 lemons (or to taste)
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
toasted sesame seeds for garnish
sliced scallions or cilantro for garnish

Throw everything into a food processor, except the canola oil, lemon juice and salt. Process until you get a smooth paste. With the processor still going, slowing add the oil, until well incorporated. Add about ¾ of the lemon juice and salt and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and lemon juice as necessary.

Use as a dipping sauce for tofu (or grilled meats or anything else you’d like).

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