Friday, October 24, 2008

Guys and Dals

Veggie Garam Masala and Red Lentil Dal

Ok, when I went to look for an image of "garam masala", I came across a Bollywood movie of that name starring these guys:
Hilarious as "Mr. Hot" and "Mr. Cool" might be, the garam masala I was looking for more closely resembles this:

You can get your curry fix at pretty much any South Asian grocer. I mean, if you find an Indian store that doesn't sell curry, I'd wonder what kind of numbers game they were running in the back. While you're at the Indian store, grab some red lentils. These will be very small and orange in the package, and will turn yellow when cooked. I made a "Stoplight Curry" a few months back with these.

I have 3-4 kinds of curry powder in my cabinet, and some are better for certain things. There's one for channa masala (chick pea curry), a "Korma" blend (great in yogurt-based curry), a "Meat" blend I use for lamb, and one called "Brain Masala", which I have never sprinkled on actual brains but really like for all other purposes. Garam masala is a classic Indian curry flavor that is warm and satisfying without being hot, though you can make it so if you wish. I've bought curry mixes powdered and in jars, and both are pretty good, though you'll want to check how concentrated and spicy either one is before using.

Veggie Garam Masala

1/4 cup oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1/2 sweet onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow squash, sliced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup red kidney beans
1 tbsp garam masala curry powder or paste
1/2 cup lowfat plain yogurt
1 fistful shredded basil
Salt (to taste)
Black pepper (to taste)

Sautee your garlic and ginger in the oil briefly, then add the onions and cook until lightly browned. Add the peppers and cook togther until lightly browned. Add the squash, kidney beans tomatoes and curry powder, then stir to incorporate flavors. Cook together until squash is tender, then add the yogurt, and throw in the basil at the very end. Adjust flavorings with salt and pepper as desired. You might also like to add a splash of lime juice just before serving.

Red Lentil Dal

2 tbsp oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1 cup red lentils
1 tbsp curry powder (I used my "brain masala" here)
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp amchur powder (made from powdered green mangoes)

In a small pot, sautee the garlic and ginger in oil briefly, then add the dry lentils and stir together in the pan for a minute. Then add the stock and curry powder and bring to a boil. Lower heat to lowest setting and let lentils cook, stirring occasionally. If more liquid is required to cook the lentils, add it. Red lentils turn yellow and become very soft the longer they cook, and are great served over rice.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Korean for Barbarians

Jap Chae

I first encountered Jap Chae at a little hippie food joint near my college. This is a Korean noodle dish made with beef, mushrooms and vegetables in a light but flavorful sauce, often served over rice. It was delicious. Unfortunately, most of the other stuff on the menu tasted like wood, and before too long the place went out of business. So I had to learn to make Jap Chae myself.

The noodles used in Jap Chae are made from sweet potatoes. They're translucent green when uncooked, and transparent when done, so they are often called "glass noodles" in English. The texture is similar to rice noodles, but their greater elasticity gives them a nice bounciness and lets them hold up better in this dish. As for the mushrooms, I like this best using a combination of "tree ears" (which need to be rehydrated by boiling) and shiitake mushrooms sliced very, very thin. I've also used canned straw mushrooms and regular button mushrooms.

You can add carrots, snap peas, or other vegetables if you like- it will still be delicious. The recipe I've posted actually isn't based on any traditional Korean preparation at all, but it does make something that tastes pretty much exactly like the Jap Chae I remember. Authentic or not, Korean food as prepared by Western barbarian hippies can still be damn tasty.

Ingredient of the Day: Tree Ears
Tree ears are a type of mushroom used in many Asian countries. They have a mild smoky flavor and a slightly snappy texture. You have almost certainly seen them before if you've ever eaten hot & sour soup in a Chinese restaurant. It's easiest to find them dehydrated, and you'll need to boil them for a few minutes before use. I also recommend examining them once cooked; sometimes the centers are slightly woody and should be cut out, but overall they are easy to use and add visual and textural interest to your dishes.

Jap Chae

2 tbsp cooking oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1 onion, sliced thin
1 red bell pepper, sliced thin
1/4 cup mushrooms of your choice (see above)
1 lb stir-fry beef, cut into thin strips
1/4 cup Soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp kecap manis (thick, sweet soy sauce- *optional)
2 tsp black pepper
*1 tbsp gochujang (spicy Korean pepper paste- *optional)
3-4 scallions, cut to 1" lengths
1/4 cup basil, shredded
2 'bundles Sweet potato noodles, cooked

Start your water boiling- this dish cooks fast once all your ingredients are lined up. In a deep skillet, sautee garlic and ginger in oil to release flavors, then add onions and stir-fry until lightly brown. Add the pepper and sautee until lightly browned, then add the beef and mushrooms and stir together briefly. Add seasonings and stir until incorporated; there should be enough liquid in the pan to make a light sauce. Put the basil and scallions in last, just before the noodles. The noodles should cook in about 5-8 minutes, but sample a noodle to test that they're cooked all the way through. Remove noodles and drain, then add them to the skillet and stir together until the brown sauce covers everything. Depending on how saucy and veggie-intensive you made this dish, you may want to serve it over rice.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Accidental Vegan; Squash, Squash and More Squash

Butternut Squash Soup, Roasted Acorn Squash with Miso Glaze, and Tofu Zucchini Stir-Fry with Edamame

I have a boyfriend who, bless his heart, eats his vegetables. Thankfully, he does not suffer from the all-too-common affliction of "Bachelorexia", caused by existing on a diet of hot dogs, Easy Mac and Mountain Dew and characterized by a persistent pallor and distracted, vacant expression. My fine fellow eats his veggies and likes them! He likes them even better when they're handed to him, on a plate and tastily prepared.

So with an autumn chill creeping into the air, we both found ourselves with a hankering for squash. I recently developed a scrumptious (and unbelievably easy) butternut squash soup, which goes fantastically well with toasted sourdough. I also roasted some acorn squash in a miso glaze, and sliced up a zucchini (also a squash) for tofu stir fry with edamame.

When my beau arrived, he was astounded at the preponderance of squash. I thought briefly about it, and realized that I had cooked a three-course meal that was inadvertantly completely vegan. I am not a vegan, but I have to admit I learned a lot the summer in college when I lived and cooked with a bunch of them. Little tricks, like adding toasted nuts to pilaf, make things so much tastier, even if you serve them alongside some prime rib. Oh, and I'll need to remember to post a recipe for the Indian squash curry (also, as luck would have it, suitable for vegans) I made last night. Yum...

Butternut Squash Soup

1 package frozen pureed squash
2 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup cooking sherry
2-3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp black pepper

Heat the vegetable stock in a pot, then add the frozen squash and let it defrost. Once it has thawed completely, add the sherry, brown sugar (depending on how sweet you'd like it), and the seasonings. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer and let cook for 5-10 minutes. Turn the heat off for 5 minutes before serving. If soup is too thick, add a little extra stock as necessary.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Miso Glaze

1 acorn squash, cut into 1" slices
2 tsp miso paste
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp oil

Mix the seasonings together and rub all over the slices of acorn squash. Place them on an oiled cookie sheet and roast in the oven at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure they are not burning. Squash is cooked if it yields easily when poked with a fork. You can add sugar or other seasonings to the glaze, but I find the natural sweetness of the squash to be enough. *Actually, I just learned that what I used was called a "Carnival Squash". Whatever- you could do this with just about anything you can roast.

Tofu Zucchini Stir-Fry with Edamame

2 tbsp oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1/2 onion, sliced thin
1 zucchini, sliced in half-circles
1 cup frozen edamame (steamed soy beans)
1 block tofu, cubed
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 tbsp brown sugar
Rice vinegar (to taste)
Sesame oil (to taste)
Black pepper
2-3 scallions, chopped

In a skillet, sautee the garlic and ginger briefly in the oil, then add the onions. Cook until lightly browned, then add the zucchini. Add the tofu and seasonings, and mix well. Add the frozen edamame, and cook until thawed and heated through. Adjust seasonings to taste, adding vinegar, sugar or pepper as you prefer. Top with the scallions and serve over rice.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Beef AND Bacon?? Oh Frabjous Day!

Beef Carbonade
There were some things my mom would cook when I was growing up that were special. The day would seem a little warmer, a little brighter. The smells wafting from the kitchen would carry you up the stairs. Steak Pizzaiola and Eggplant Patties would make you go farther and work harder.

But Beef Carbonade would make you its slave.

This is a rich, hearty stew that starts and ends with bacon. In between, you have lots and lots of onions cooked into a bottle of dark beer (the darker and sweeter the better) until they practically melt. The delicious juice makes this dish best served over rice. You can cook this in a standard pot for about 2 hours, or do what mom did: use a pressure cooker. Under pressure, the beef will be fall-apart tender in about 25 minutes. You can add carrots, as one roommate suggested, but remember they will change the sweet/savory balance.

I've used dark beers from Eastern Europe like Baltika 6 and Okocim. The Eastern European beers also come in larger bottles, so "1 bottle" here might mean 1.5 standard American 12 oz. bottles. There's no need to hunt down a specific brew, but a quality porter that's a little sweet and not bitter can improve this stew 100%. However, I would not recommend using Guinness, which I thought overwhelmed the other flavors.

Beef Carbonade

2 tbsp. vegetable oil
3 slices bacon
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb. stew beef, cubed
3 large sweet onions, sliced thin
1 bottle dark beer
1-2 cups beef broth
1 bay leaf
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
Black pepper to taste
Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a deep pot and cook the bacon until crisp, then remove the bacon and set it aside. Add your garlic and meat, and cook until slightly browned (this makes what the French call "fond", the rich meaty flavor you get from browning meat). Add the onions and cook together until lightly browned. Add the beer, beef broth, and seasonings except salt and bring to a boil while stirring. Lower heat, cover the pot and let it simmer for at least half an hour. Cook for 1-2 hours or until beef is fall-apart tender. When cooking is almost done, taste the stew to determine whether or not it needs more salt or other seasonings adjusted. Black pepper is also best added at the end. Just before serving, crumble the bacon and stir it back into the stew. Serve over Jasmine or brown rice.