Feb 22, 2012

Pear avocado salad

While a pear salad with chicken could be served as a main dish, one with avocado and nuts does much better as a side.  In this case, make the dressing first.  In a food processor, combine:

  • Apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 avocado (mostly for the oil)
  • Olive oil (because an avocado won't yield enough)
  • Ground coriander
  • Just a dash of cinnamon
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ~ 3/4 inch of jalapeno
Pulse until that is well combined.  For the salad itself, simply combine:
  • 1/3 bunch of spinach, hand torn
  • 2 pears (bosc and anjou work here as well), cubed small
  • 1 avocado plus the remaining half, sliced or cubed
  • Scant half cup of almond, rough chopped
Dress, toss, serve immediately.  The mild heat from the jalapeno brings out the pears' sweetness, which is further enhanced by the coriander and cinnamon.

Feb 21, 2012

Pear chicken salad

Pears are a great compliment to greens.  Not too sweet, they take dressings well and their grainy structure provides a texture that compliments greens without overwhelming them.  They also seem to be available both during their natural peak season and, say, in winter.

This first variation of the theme is a chicken salad.  To pull off the thin slicing required to keep the chicken manageable, freeze two breasts thoroughly, then place them into the refrigerator overnight to thaw just enough to slice.  In the morning, do just that, then add them to a marinate of:

  • Olive oil
  • White wine vinegar
  • Honey (not too much)
  • Red pepper flake
  • Black pepper
Let that sit for around four hours, preferably near room temperature to let the chicken continue to thaw and absorb the flavors.  When that's done, pour the whole mixture into a covered pan and poach the chicken in the marinate, which will become the dressing.  Obviously you'll want to cook it all the way through as it's now quite contaminated with raw chicken.

While that is cooking, slice 3 pears thinly and place them in a large pyrex mixing bowl.  I used anjou on my first run; bosc seem to work very nicely.  When the chicken is cooked, pour the entire mixture over the pears and toss.  Once it has cooled enough not to wilt greens, add spinach or another lettuce of choice and toss again.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Feb 1, 2012

Actually good vegetarian tacos

Vegetarian tacos are boring.  There, I said it.  A rice/bean mixture in a corn tortilla just isn't the most exciting thing in the world even if you've managed to throw together some really tasty rice and some time-tested beans. As it turns out, those do much better in a flour tortilla together, but that's another discussion for another day.

So you get creative.  And maybe you have to throw in an under-appreciated starchy vegetable.  And maybe, just maybe, you've been playing with some of the more esoteric uses of a food processor.  You might come up with something like this.

Part the first: a bean salad.

In a large bowl, combine 2 cans or 1lb of (soaked, cooked, etc) black beans, well-drained.  Throw in a a can of corn.  Perhaps pull out a can of olives, slice that up, and add.  While you're on knife work, dice a red onion finely -- and half a medium jicama, a bit less fine.

Set that aside; it won't need dressing for these purposes and you'll have plenty of leftovers that you can dress as you go.

Part the second: purée.  In a food processor, combine the following:

  • 1 avocado
  • a modest amount of corn or olive oil
  • a dash or two of red wine vinegar
  • juice (and pulp; why not) of 1 lime
  • red pepper flake to taste
  • small amounts of garlic (powder is fine here)
  • a pinch of salt
Blend that puppy until smooth.  If you need a bit more liquid, add either oil or vinegar based on taste and overall texture.  Oh, and if you're making ahead or in a large batch, be sure to retain an avocado pit to keep from browning before serving.

And that's it.  Toast yourself up some corn tortillas, layer on the purée, bean mixture, and whatever loose greens you have around.  You might note that this is not just vegetarian at this point, but also vegan.  Feel free to keep it that way -- or sneak in cheese and yogurt.  And there you go: interesting tacos that don't depend on all the usual ingredients.

Jan 24, 2012

Cilatro-lime rice

For the longest time, Chipotle owned the ciltro-lime rice game. In fact, their white rice is still to die for. The problem? They never quite hit home with their brown rice. But there is a way to do it. This is how. All ratios are normalized for a single cup of rice. Add olive or corn oil to a decent sized pot. Add:

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Zest from 1/2 lime
  • Whole cumin
Toast that to extract the flavors into the oil.  Bring to high heat and add the rice.

Shortly after, add juice of whatever limes you used plus water to equal 1.75 cups.  Let the boil down to level, then turn the heat all the way down and steam for 35 minutes (at altitude; 30 might be enough at lower elevations).

Fluff the hot rice, then toss with 1/2 bunch of chopped cilantro and salt to taste.

Jan 3, 2012

A Return: Thai Curry

It's been a full year away.  Kind of amazing, but it was a pretty crappy year so go figure.  All that is fading into the past now, and it's back to cooking.

This is an attempt at a rich yellow Thai curry -- and it worked beautifully.  The flavors could probably be enriched by using tamarind over lime and a Thai basil over Italian, but all that just creates trouble getting it done with a visit to the local store.  And it's actually quite good enough as is.

In a dutch oven, melt 4 tablespoons of butter and immediately begin sauteing 1.5 medium red onions.  Add to that 4 sliced jalapenos, seeds and all.  You could moderate the heat here, but it's Thai -- so don't.  (Also note that these jalapenos are the only source of heat, so don't skimp.)  Dash on both raw sugar and salt here.

As the onions cook through, chunk up 4 or 5 potatoes -- russets worked fine and added to the overall sweet notes to the dish.  Also slice 4 or 5 large carrots.  When the onion is mostly translucent, add those and toss to coat.

While that is cooking down a bit, mince 4 (large) cloves of garlic and an equivalent amount of ginger.  Add those as you can with perhaps a bit more sugar.

When all that is combined, add 1 quart chicken stock and 3 stalks lemongrass (if using dried).  Juice 1 lime into the pot and heat to a simmer.  Keep cooking until the potatoes are done and have acquired plenty of spicy-sweet flavor.

To finish, add 1 can of coconut milk (just go for full fat) and a very generous amount of rough chopped basil.  Serve over rice.

Jan 18, 2011

Garlic chicken tacos

I wasn't going to post this.  I'll admit it.  It was a series of mistakes and random ingredients.  The wife, however, considers this a recipe box and demanded it be posted.  So here we go.

What if you were about to be lazy and make an aglio e olio, having chopped the garlic and all, and then realize you're out of olive oil?


Well, we have corn tortillas and corn oil, right?  Let's do... that.

Well, it turns out we also have ingredients for those wonderful black beans.  Minus the onions and chicken stock, but we have red and water, right?  Perfect.

So we'll dice up a few chicken breasts and then toss them in corn oil with the garlic, add some whole cumin, and then add oregano and paprika as it settles.  Maybe some leftover enchilada sauce?  Absolutely.  Some salt will round that out nicely.  That will all simmer while we're waiting on the beans, which do take a bit longer.

In the meantime we'll find some asadero and maybe some queso blanco and cube that to about 1/8th inch.  Romaine and yogurt should round that out.

When it's all done, quickly get some corn oil hot and briefly toast the tortillas on each side.  And suddenly: dinner.

Jan 2, 2011

Indian dinner

Way back when I just started writing this blog and wasn't sure what to do with it I started to draft some sort of essay on Indian cooking.  Check the archives; it never made it to publication.  Since then I've posted three Indian(ish) recipes, one of which hardly even counts despite having a semi-accurate flavor profile and ingredient list.

Which is all leading up to say: Indian cooking can be tricky.  Forget the ingredients; they're really not that unusual for the most part.  We all know about cumin and ginger and mustard and cinnamon and even some of the less obvious things spices like turmeric, coriander, and even cardamom aren't anything all that special.  In the end dal is just lentils and asafoetida isn't strictly necessary.

And yet it still ends up being somewhat tricky to figure out -- largely because of the process involved.  But rest assured, tricky doesn't mean hard.  Just... tricky.  All the rules about what goes in when and why in French cooking get tossed out the window (note: same is true of most Asian cuisines; it's just that Indian food is also quite different than anything with Sino-Japanese influences).  You end up building your spice profile from the beginning rather than the end, use odd thickening tricks, employ dairy in weird ways... etc, etc, etc.  But once you get the hang of it it's actually pretty hard to screw it up.  At least not too badly.  After trying a few (good) recipes (that actually try to explain themselves) and maybe using some of those boxed spice mixes (and analyzing what's in them and what each ingredient adds) improving becomes relatively simple.

Case in point: new year's eve 2010.  The wife (am I going to get used to saying that sometime?) calls on the way home and requests Indian.  A quick inventory of the kitchen and a run to the store yields:
  • Almost 2 lbs of tri tip (thank god for discount meat but note that there's absolutely no reason to use this if you want to be authentic or otherwise cost-conscious; just replace with boneless skinless chicken breasts if you prefer)
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 3 bell peppers
  • 3 jalapenos
  • 7 red potatoes
  • Chicken broth
  • 1 large can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • Olive oil
  • Cumin (whole; this is important)
  • Coriander (whole; this is important)
  • Cardamom pods (always pods; the flavor difference is substantial)
  • Ginger (powder is fine but raw grated is always good)
  • Cinnamon (ground; sticks are fine)
  • Yogurt
  • Rice
  • Salt/pepper
I also had turmeric and a handful of masala blends laying around but opted against them this time around.

Looks viable... right?

Of course.  We'll start with the rice:
  • Make rice
Basically I'd forget to do this until too late if I don't get it in early.  And if it's a little cool by the time you serve it it's no big deal.

Then move on to bigger, better things.  Like building a spice profile and braising a bit.  In a skillet combine:
  • Olive oil
  • Cumin seeds
  • Coriander seeds
Get that HOT.  You want the seeds to be popping and jumping and generally scaring your domestic wildlife.  A little smoke from the oil isn't a bad thing.

In the meantime cube up your meat of choice.  Since mine was beef I felt obligated to conservatively apply salt and pepper.  Brown that in the superheated oil then transfer to a stock pot (along with some of the oil, naturally).

Take the heat down in the skillet, add a touch more oil along with the seeds from a half dozen cardamom pods.  Bring the heat back up a bit until they become pungent and then quickly add onions chunked rather largely and toss until they're just slightly cooked.  Then transfer everything to the stock pot, scraping for all the little bits of goodness left behind from the high heat.

Now you're just stewing.  Add:
  • Bell peppers, also chunked
  • Jalapenos, I like them ring sliced, seeds and all
  • Diced tomatoes with juice
  • Chicken broth
  • Ginger
Bring to a boil and let that simmer together for a few minutes before adding:
  • Potatoes, large chunks
  • Cinnamon to taste -- but don't go overboard
  • Tomato paste to thicken
Stir well, ensuring that the tomato paste is evenly distributed.  That's the only thickener you're using so make the most of it.  You're likely to want to add a bit of salt somewhere in here as well.

And that's it.  Walk away.  When the potatoes are done you have dinner.

Serve in a bowl with layers of rice, stew, and yogurt.  Garnish with cilantro if you're so inclined.

See?  Simple.  The spices toasted at the beginning are the primary flavor modifiers -- and they had to be whole in order to stand up to the high heat without burning.  The secondary spices are more mellow, present primarily to round out the flavor.  The onions are left nearly raw, imparting a very different flavor than the long sweats and browns you're used to.  The jalapenos add just enough heat to notice without being overpowering.  The potatoes take on the flavor of the broth, oil, and tomatoes.  And it all works wonderfully.

But yes, it does take some getting used to.