Monday, December 7, 2009

Ersatz Ethiopian

Berbere Roast Chicken with Spiced Yams and Injera Stuffing

I have been away wayyyy too long.

And I knew I would kick myself in the pants for not taking a picture of what I made last night...

I acquired some berbere seasoning, the bright red deliciousness you find meat and vegetables rolling in when you order nearly anything at an Ethiopian restaurant. I also acquired some injera, the flat sourdough pancake that serves as both plate and utensil. Traditionally, food is served on a large, round plate lined with injera, and scooped up with additional pieces of the same flatbread. Eating is a communal experience with everyone reaching for the same plate. Some people find this too darn weird, but I like it. The rich, spicy flavors are right up my alley, and what I made last night went really well with some tej, an Ethiopian dry honey wine, which can be found from Linganore Wineries right here in Maryland.

Since I had no idea what I was doing, I did as I assume the Ethiopians do and erred on the side of butter. I took my berbere, mixed it with butter and lemon juice, and rubbed copious amounts of this under the skin of a small fryer chicken. I sauteed some garlic, ginger, jalapenos, onions and leeks, then chopped them up with some injera and butter to make stuffing. I also roasted some spiced yams in the same pan. I served this alongside some kale and leeks, and some braised spiced turnips. And of course, more injera.

Berbere Roast Chicken

1 small chicken (mine was about 3 lbs.)
3 tbsp berbere seasoning
1 tbsp butter
2 tsp lemon juice

Injera Stuffing

1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
2 tbsp jalapeno pepper, chopped fine
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup leeks, chopped
1 cup injera, sliced in ribbons
1 tsp butter

Spiced Yams

1 large yam, in 1" cubes
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp lemon juice]
1 tbsp berbere seasoning
1 tbsp oil

Preheat oven to 450.
In a skillet, sautee the garlic, onion and leeks until lightly browned. Add ginger and jalapeno pepper and cook together until flavors are incorporated. Let cool briefly, then mix with injera and butter.

Rinse chicken and pat dry. Mix butter, lemon juice and seasoning together. Work seasoning up under skin of bird wherever possible, and inside cavity to be stuffed. You can do this a few hours in advance, then wrap and leave bird for up to 6 hours. When ready too cook, make sure stuffing cool enough to touch, then stuff into chicken. Make sure the cavity is as closed as much as possible, then tie the legs closed with cooking twine. Place the chicken on a rack in the center of a roasting pan, and scatter yams around the edges (the pan should be just big enough to hold everything; if things are scattered too much, they will dry out.)

Rub oil, sugar, lemon juice and seasoning over cubed yams. Arrange around chicken in roasting pan and cook alongside.
Roast chicken for 20 minutes on 450 to seal in juices, then lower heat to 350 and roast 20 minutes for each pound (1 hour, in this case). Turn yams and baste chicken halfway through cooking. Serve with injera.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Flirting With Disaster

Seafood Stew with Bacon, Mushroom Risotto

Sometimes I have an idea, and then halfway through I throw caution to the wind and start tossing in things I think will taste good. Inspired by the Basil Queen's "Pesce Alla Acqua Pazza", I set out to make a fish dish of my own. However, I lack her subtlety, and Adele's light and graceful preparation soon gave way to a rich tomato stew flavored with bacon. I also added a whole bunch of onions, a shallot or two, and then said what the hell and threw in some shrimp. I did follow her suggestion in using tilapia, though, which worked nicely and held together in tender morsels. Adele is the true chef among us; my variation is probably more suited to dockside dining. But have you ever had a hot chowder on a cool seashore in September? That's the stuff.

I accompanied this with my first attempt at risotto. Both of these dishes, I realize, could have ended in disaster. Luckily, though, the risotto came out creamy and infused with mushroomy goodness, the stew was flavorful and the fish not overcooked. I served this up with some steamed broccoli, and called it a meal.

Seafood Stew with Bacon

2 strips bacon
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1/2 cups onion, sliced thin
2 large beefsteak tomatoes, seeded & diced
1 cup white wine
1 lb tilapia filet, in 1" chunks
10-12 large shrimp, peeled & veined
3 cups chicken stock
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tsp dried parsley, crushed
1 tsp dried basil, crushed
2 tbsp fresh basil, shredded
Black pepper to taste
*Salt (if desired)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

In deep pot, using a small amount of oil, cook the bacon until crisp; remove and set aside. In the bacon-infused oil, sautee the garlic, shallot and onion until browned. Add the tomatoes and sautee until liquid is released and oil acquires a reddish tint. Add the white wine and cook briefly, then add the chicken stock and stir. Add the tilapia and shrimp and bring to a boil, then season to taste with lemon juice, salt, pepper, and dry herbs. Save the fresh basil for the end, and toss in at the end of cooking along with a drizzle of olive oil. Shut the gas and allow to sit for a minute before serving. Top with bacon and more fresh basil for presentation.

Mushroom Risotto
(This recipe came straight off the box of arborio rice)

2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup onion, chopped fine
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
3 cups chicken stock
Black pepper to taste

Sautee the onion in butter until lightly browned, then add the mushrooms. Add the rice and stir together to incorporate flavors before adding liquid. Add 1 cup of stock, stirring until it comes to a light boil. Add the remaining stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring in between, adding the next cup when the rice absorbs the last and begins to thicken again. When the last cup is added, continue to cook and stir until a creamy consistency is reached. The rice should be cooked at the center but still firm. Turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes before serving. Season with black pepper if desired.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Squid Vicious

Thai Squid Salad

Squid is kind of like the Sex Pistols; many find it offputting, but those who love it feel there is no substitute. It has a bad reputation for being sort of fishy and can be tough if overcooked, but fresh, well-prepared squid is tender and mild, and goes well with a range of flavorings.

You can get squid in a variety of styles; I used fairly large squid with bodies about 6-8 inches long, cut them in strips and then scored them with a cris-cross pattern on the inside. Squid is also readily available frozen in little rings (which come from smaller squid), and you can get the legs, too. I like the legs best, but many people skeeve tentacles. This salad is seasoned Thai style, with ginger and lime juice and a serious dose of spice. It's brazen and in-your-face, it might make you cry, and it wants to do unnatural things to the Queen. Enjoy.

Ingredient of the Day: Sambal Oelek
This Indonesian chili-pepper paste is indispensible in much Southeast Asian cooking. You can find it at nearly any Asian market and, more recently, in many grocery stores.

Thai-Style Squid Salad

1 lb of fresh squid
2 tbsp lime juice*
1 tbsp fresh cilantro
1 tbsp fresh basil
2 tsp fish sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp sambal oelek
1/2 tsp lemongrass (either fresh or powdered)
2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1/3 cup carrot, shredded
1 head romaine lettuce, shredded

*You can use 1 tbsp of Rose's Lime Juice, or 2 tbsp fresh with 2 tsp of added sugar.

Prepare your sauce, adding the lime juice, soy sauce, ginger, lemongrass, sambal oelek, fish sauce, basil and brown sugar together. Slice and score your squid, then cook in boiling water for 3 minutes, removing promptly. Stir the squid and sauce together, and pour over lettuce and carrot, and top it with the cilantro and any extra basil. I like to eat this alongside some rice.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Impressing Vegetarians

Sicilian Chickpea Fritters, Pasta with Artichoke Hearts

Hello again! I return from a triumphant eight weeks in Moscow, Russia. Lacking a kitchen in my dorm room on Ulitsa Skakovaya, I've done almost nothing but make up for it since my return, and have been cooking almost non-stop. After revisiting old favorites already posted, I tried something new last night- and I actually took a picture of it!

You see, my roommate brought someone over for dinner- he's a vegetarian, and I wanted to serve up some veggie-friendly protein that wasn't a bean salad. So I modified a Sicilian recipe I'd been meaning to try for a while. Panelles are a simple fritter traditionally made from chickpea flour with some parsley, salt and pepper, lightly pan-fried. Since these aren't true panelles, I won't call them that- I substituted a can of chick peas for half of the flour in the original recipe. You can eyeball this one- the texture will let you know when it's ready. I served this alongside a very simple but extremely tasty veggie pasta, and a simple tomato basil salad.

In case you were wondering, I usually fry and sautee in either vegetable or safflower oil. This time I used sunflower oil, which gives everything a nice buttery, nutty flavor while still being fairly healthy. Olive oil has a low smoking point and I don't prefer it for high-heat activities like frying or browning garlic. Long exposure to heat messes with the delicate taste of olive oil and its healthy properties, so I usually reserve it for use as a flavoring, adding it at the end of cooking.

Sicilian-Style Chickpea Fritters

1 can chickpeas, drained
1 1/2 cups chickpea flour
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp anise seeds
2 cups water
2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
*1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes (optional)
1/4 cup vegetable or sunflower oil (for frying)

In a pan over medium heat, mix together the chickpeas, chickpea flour, seasonings, and water, stirring constantly. Mash up the whole chickpeas as much as possible while you stir. If the mixture begins to thicken too fast, add a little water. Once the mixture reaches a boil, it will begin to thicken fast- when it becomes a dense paste (after 5-8 minutes), remove it from the heat, and pour it out onto an oiled cookie sheet, pressing it into a layer about 1/2 inch thick. Let the mixture cool, and once it is cooled and firm, cut it into evenly-sized pieces at least 2 inches across. Fry them in a small amount of oil until golden brown on both sizes, and serve.

Pasta with Artichoke Hearts

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large shallot, chopped
1 12 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts
1 12 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup white wine
2 zucchini, sliced
2 tsp. capers in vinegar, rinsed
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp dried basil, crushed
2 tbsp fresh basil, shredded
1 tsp black pepper
Salt to taste
*sprinkle of sugar (if needed)
3/4 lb. angel hair pasta

In a pan on medium heat, sautee the garlic and shallot in a small amount of vegetable oil. Add the wine, artichoke hearts in their liquid, and tomatoes, and stir. Add the zucchini, lower heat, and simmer until the alcohol in the wine has cooked off. Season to taste with lemon juice, salt, pepper, basil, and capers, adding a sprinkle of sugar if it seems too tart. Once the pasta is cooked, strain and toss with the sauce, adding the olive oil.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hot Peppers on the Lamb

Lamb and Rice Stuffed Red Peppers

Ok, so I ripped off my title from an old episode of AMC's Dinner and a Movie. "Two Hot Peppers on the Lamb" was what they cooked when the featured film was "Thelma and Louise". I always thought that was brilliant. Now then...

These stuffed peppers have a little Middle Eastern influence, since the stuffing was inspired by the heavily spiced ground lamb kebabs known as kofta. I had tried this before and been disappointed; getting it right meant putting in more rice, more egg, more salt and more lime juice, and all of this translated into more delicious. I topped the roasted stuffed peppers with a little spicy tomato sauce, and served them with couscous and a spinach salad in strawberry-balsamic vinaigrette (see last summer's entries for the dressing recipe).

Lamb and Rice Stuffed Red Peppers

1 lb ground lamb
1 shallot, chopped
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 cup cooked rice
2 eggs
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp sumac (available at Middle Eastern markets)
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp oregano
2-3 bell peppers (depending on size), halved
2 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rub the peppers in some of the olive oil and grease a deep pan with the rest. Mix the ground lamb and other ingredients and seasonings well, then press the mix into the peppers, heaping about a 1/2 inch over the top of the pepper. Brush a little olive oil on top of the peppers and set in the oven for 45 minutes. Top with spiced tomato sauce and serve.

Spicy Tomato Sauce

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp garlic, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tsp aleppo pepper (available in Middle Eastern markets)
1 tbsp fresh chopped basil
1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
1 tsp lime juice

In a small pan, sautee garlic in oil briefly, then mix ingredients together over low heat until fully blended, and simmer for 1-2 minutes before serving over the peppers.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Swordfish is the Password

Swordfish Steaks, with Turnip Greens,
Harukei Turnips, Asparagus and Potatoes

The farmer's market has just started up and the pickings are still slim, but yesteday I came upon some very interesting little vegetables called harukei turnips. They taste like a cross between a radish and asparagus, and the farmer told me they would be excellent either raw or roasted alongside some actual asparagus. I had some asparagus at home, some swordfish in my freezer (an excellent deal at Trader Joe's), and the good fortune of a boyfriend who is exceedingly fond of both swordfish and asparagus. He likes potatoes, too, as do I, so I also roasted some of those. The greens from the turnips looked wonderfully fresh, so I sauteed them and served them as well. I don't care to dwell on it, but this must have been a damn healthy dinner.

I'm not even going to include a recipe for the roasted potatoes and vegetables, since all I did was set my oven to 350, rub a little olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice on everything, and cook it. The potatoes stayed in for about 45 minutes; I stuck the turnips and asparagus in a separate pan and cooked them for about 25 minutes.

Swordfish Steaks

2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 swordfish steaks
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp crushed basil
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp Northwoods seasoning (from

Rub the above mixture onto your swordfish steaks and cook on medium heat until brown on both sides, about 10-15 minutes if the steaks are about an inch thick. That's it.

Turnip Greens with Mushrooms

1 tbsp oil
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 shallot, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup white wine
1 bunch turnip greens
2 tsp lemon juice
salt & pepper (to taste)

Sautee the garlic in oil, then add the shallots and mushrooms and cook until lightly browned. Add the wine, then toss in the greens. Lower heat to lowest setting and cover for 2-3 minutes. Stir occasionally, and once greens are tender turn off the heat. Sprinkle with lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste before serving.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Georgia on my Mind

Lobio, Kasha, and Khachapuri

First, let's get something straight: I mean Georgia the COUNTRY, not the US state! Georgian food is still waiting to be discovered as a cuisine over here, but I think it has a bright future. I discovered it in a little family-run cafe on the Fontanka in St. Petersburg, and it took a lot of self-control to keep myself out of there every day. Everyone I know who has experienced Georgian food it will tell you it is exceedingly tasty and fairly simple to prepare. The ingredients are easy to find in the US, and there's little that the American palate will find threatening.

Lobio is a savory bean dish that has numerous variations, all dubbed "Lobio", so I'm including my own recipe, which gets pretty close to the version I first ate in the Georgian cafe. I used canned beans simply because they're faster. It may or may not be traditional to serve this with buckwheat kasha, but I love the stuff and think they're great together.

The real crowd pleaser, though, is bound to be the khachapuri, which is Georgian cheesy bread. Likewise, this dish seems to come in a variety of shapes and styles, so I felt fine taking a few liberties. I used a blend of sharp cheddar and asiago to mimic the salty Georgian cheeses you'd find baked into traditional khachapuri.

Lobio (Georgian Bean Stew)
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp garlic
1 shallot, chopped
1 can red kidney beans or fava beans, rinsed
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup chopped kale (optional)
1 tsp oregano
1 tbsp seasoning blend*
2 tsp lemon juice

*I used a prepackaged Georgian seasoning blend containing black pepper, salt, paprika, turmeric, oregano, basil and fenugreek. A goulash seasoning, or a blend called "Khmeli-Suneli" would also work well, but the seasoning of this dish seems to be wide open.

Sautee the garlic in oil on medium heat until lightly browned, and add the shallot. Add the beans and stir together, letting them cook for a minute or so before adding the wine. Keep stirring and add the chicken stock and kale. The consistency should be like a thick soup- feel free to add more stock if needed. Add the seasonings and lemon, and lower heat. Stir occasionally- it should be ready when the kale is cooked.

Buckwheat Kasha

1/4 cup oil
1/2 onion
1 cup buckwheat kasha
2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp dill

First make sure to inspect your kasha for small stones and whatnot; even the best American brands might have a pebble in them somewhere, but kasha is delicious and worth the effort. On medium heat in a deep saucepan, sautee the onion in oil until brown. Then add the dry kasha and toast it lightly in the oil for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Add the chicken stock and dill and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cover. Let it simmer while stirring occasionally until the liquid is absorbed (a 2:1 ratio of liquid to kasha usually works). Remove cover and stir, letting some liquid evaporate- the kasha should be soft, but the individual grains shouldn't be so mushy they stick together.

Khachapuri (Georgian Cheesy Bread)

1 packet quick-acting yeast
1 cup warm water
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp *seasoning blend (optional- see above)
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 oz sharp white cheddar, in small cubes
4 oz asiago, in small cubes
2 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water along with the sugar and salt. Add the seasoning (if desired) and flour, mixing together. When well-mixed, cover and let sit in a warm place for 5 minutes. Then knead the dough for one minute on a floured surface. Divide the mixture into four parts, pressing each into an oval. Fill each with a mix of cheddar and asiago cubes, then pinch the narrow ends of the oval up until it looks like a boat (see picture). Be sure the sides are securely closed, and leave an opening at the center. Leave some flour on the underside of each boat to prevent sticking, and brush the tops with olive oil. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Tequila-Lime Tilapia with Tomato Couscous and Spicy Mango Chutney

My roommate was nervous about her big presentation today, so last night I thought she could use some tequila. Drinking it straight was probably not a good idea, though, so I decided to make something extra-spiffy for dinner and opted for one of my favorite flavors; tequila-lime. I pan-seared some tilapia filets and served them with tomato couscous, mango chutney and steamed broccoli. I really wish I had taken a picture- the plate looked so pretty! Why don't I take pictures before I eat the pretty things? Maybe because they look too good...

The tequila-lime treatment should be familiar to anyone who has ever eaten at Applebee's or Chili's. As good as it always sounds, no restaurant has ever managed to make one with enough tequila OR enough lime for yours truly. I'm liberal with both, so this sauce has a great kick. You can make it spicy, too, but I kept it mild this time. It also works well with chicken and pork. I plan on dousing some shrimp in the leftover sauce later this week.

Ingredient of the Day: Ancho Chili Powder
Ancho chili powder is only mildly spicy but has a very distinct taste and a wonderfully rich smokiness. It will add depth and a Southwest flair to your more powerfully-flavored dishes and makes a good addition to barbecue rubs and sauces.

Tequila Lime Tilapia
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large shallot, minced
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
3 tbsp brown sugar
juice of 1 fresh lime
1 tbsp Rose's lime juice
1/2 cup tequila
1/2 tsp ancho chili powder
1 tsp dried basil (or several shredded fresh leaves)
1 tsp dried parsley (or fresh)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
*1 tbsp fresh cilantro, shredded

4 tilapia filets (about 1 lb.)

In a non-stick pan on medium heat, sautee the garlic and shallot in the oil until lightly browned then add the chicken broth, lime juice and brown sugar (you can mix them all together beforehand if you like). Then add the tequila and stir. Once the alcohol has cooked off (taste it to find out), lower the heat and simmer the sauce until some of the liquid cooks off. Season with the ancho chili powder, basil and parsley. Add salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste.

I removed the pan from the heat and let a little bit of the sauce cool, then rubbed it on the tilapia filets before pan-searing them. Once they were cooked, I set them on the plate and spooned more sauce over them. This made sure the fish browned and didn't get stewed from having too much juice in the pan. *I topped mine with a healthy dose of fresh cilantro, but if you hate cilantro, by all means leave it out.

Tomato Couscous
2 cups water
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce (the little squat cans)
1 cup couscous
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil

I kept this simple because there were so many other flavors on the plate. Mix the water and tomato sauce and salt together and bring it to a boil. Add the couscous, stir well and lower the heat to its lowest setting. Let cook for 5 minutes, then check to see how much of the water has been absorbed. If the couscous looks cooked and the water has been absorbed, remove it from the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes. Add the olive oil and fluff with a fork before serving.

Spicy Mango Chutney
1 fresh mango, diced
2 tbsp red bell pepper, chopped
1 shallot, minced
1 tsp lime juice
1/2 tsp brown sugar*
1/2 tsp aleppo pepper
1/2 tsp dried basil

Simply chop and mix these ingredients together just before serving. *If you have an especially sweet, ripe mango, you might omit the sugar.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Hot Soup, Cold Treat

Sambhar Squash Soup and Strawberry Ginger Mint Sorbet

Check it out- an actual photo I took of food I prepared! I really need to start taking pictures of stuff...

The weather has been blowing hot and cold all month long in DC, so I've been mixing it up a bit food-wise. The other day I put together a nice vegetable curry, and experimented with a soup to go with it. I've been making squash soups with frozen pureed squash for a while, but this time I added sambhar curry powder, and a minced preserved lemon. The effect was spicy and satisfying, and a definite hit with my roommate. Sambhar powder is typically used to season a thin lentil soup in Indian cuisine; it can be pretty strong, so you may want to check how much heat the brand you try is packing before you cook.

Today was a snow day, and since there wasn't enough ice outside, I had to throw some around in the house and make my first ever sorbet. We had a bag of strawberries, frozen at their peak after being picked on a local farm last summer, and with a few other simple ingredients they made a terrifically easy and flavorful dessert using only a blender and a Tupperware container. If you want to use heavy cream instead of the milk and soy creamer I happened to have, I'm sure it will come out awesome, too.

The other experiment of the day was my first attempt at pizza dough, but I won't post that unless it works out when I bake it tomorrow. You know- gotta make sure it doesn't explode in the oven, or crawl out of the fridge overnight.

Sambhar Squash Soup

2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 package frozen pureed butternut squash
4 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp. sambhar curry powder
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. sugar
1 minced preserved lemon (See entry "Morocco Love")

Heat the oil in a deep saucepan and sautee the onion until lightly browned. Add the chicken stock and the frozen squash. Cook until the squash thaws and the soup comes to a boil, then add the sambhar powder, lemon juice, sugar and minced lemon. You can also add salt and pepper to taste, if you like. Once the soup is boiling, lower it and simmer, stirring until flavors are incorporated. Serve with toasted naan. No, really- dipping toasted Indian bread in this made it even better.

Strawberry Ginger Mint Sorbet
2 cups frozen strawberries
1 1/2 cups milk*
1/2 cup soy creamer
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Mix all ingredients together in a blender. Pour into a 1 quart container and stick it in the freezer. After 1 hour, stir or shake it to break up any ice crystals. I'm not sure if the soy creamer affected the texture, but the batch I made came out creamy and never turned rock-solid or developed large ice crystals. It may have been the fact that I started with frozen strawberries. Either way, it's fresh and delicious, and will taste even better in a month like July.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Introducing Kale

Kale Soup with Pork and Mushrooms

I love kale. When other greens look wimpy and unappetizing, the kale in the supermarket still appears fresh and healthy, its deep green leaves doubling over themselves with earthy goodness, crisply crenellated with their own vitality. Kale has a distinct flavor, sometimes even a sweetness, and a texture that holds up in soups and stews. Kale is not merely rabbit food, and it's a damn shame it's fed to more rabbits than humans these days. It is, I daresay, a manly green. A very virile vegetable. And it's full of nutrients like calcium and iron. It will do your body good.

I often cook kale with garlic, white wine, and cannellini beans in my own version of the Italian peasant standby, escarole and beans. Since I nearly froze to death on my way home the other night, I was more in the mood for soup.

Kale goes together with pork in a magical way. The Portuguese have a variant of kale soup that uses chorizo. I did not have any chorizo, but I do keep a small reserve of cured pork fat in my freezer, which I use mainly as a flavoring. It's also true that many of the nutrients in dark, leafy greens are fat soluble, and you actually increase their benefit by cooking with a small amount of animal fat. The meat used here is a standard pork cutlet, an extremely lean cut that won't add much fat, but will make for a more satisfying and protein-filled result. Mushrooms and sherry are also a magical combination, and so I've incorporated both ingredient pairings here to wonderful effect. What you get is a very hearty soup with plenty in each spoonful. If you prefer your soup to be soupier, just add stock as desired.

Kale and Pork Soup with Mushrooms

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small piece cured pork fat
1 onion, diced
1 shallot, diced
2 small pork cutlets, sliced thin
8-10 button mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup sherry
5 cups kale, shredded
5 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup tiny pasta (i.e. stars, orzo)
Black pepper (to taste)
Salt (to taste)
Grated Romano cheese (if desired)

In a deep pot, sautee pork fat in oil until it begins to brown, then remove it. Add the onion and shallot and cook until browned, then add the pork. When the pork begins to brown, add the mushrooms and cook together until they acquire some of the flavors and begin to brown, too. Add the sherry and stir everything together until the alcohol is cooked off. Begin stirring in your kale- it will cook down, and you'll soon be able to get it all in the pot. Add the chicken stock and bring the pot to a boil. Add the pasta and lower heat to simmering. Once the kale is tender, taste the soup and adjust salt and pepper to taste. You can leave it a little less salty and sprinkle some grated cheese on top instead, if you like.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Japanese Dream

A Japanese Dinner Party for Six

Last night, my boyfriend and I hosted a Japanese-themed dinner party, which featured a number of delicacies we discovered in Japan, and even a few items we acquired there. Some friends joined us for what was a remarkably simple meal to prepare; the majority of items are individual ingredients, albeit grated, sliced, chopped or marinated. If you would like to know how any of this was prepared, feel free to post a comment. The look of the table as a whole was really my favorite part. Except for the guests. They were a blast, too.

Now and then it's nice to do something that makes you say "Yes, sometimes, I rock." I'm pretty proud of this:

Each place setting:

Here's what you're seeing, clockwise from left
-Miso soup
-Cup for green tea
In small red dish:
-Pickled plum
-Sliced ginger
-Fish cake
-Sweet black soybeans
In small bowl at right:
-Daikon in bonito broth w/seaweed
On square plate, clockwise from upper left:
-Fresh grated ginger
-Marinated daikon and carrot
-Chopped pickled vegetables (from Japan)
-Green peas and marinated burdock
-Tamago (sweet Japanese egg)
-Tuna sashimi
-Pickled ginger
-Fresh grated daikon
-Tofu w/black sesame and scallions
Not pictured:
-Roasted enoki mushrooms
-Green salad w/shiso dressing (from Japan)
-Ginger soy sauce (for tofu)
-Brown rice
-Plum wine
-Meyer lemon and hibiscus sorbets

Tom and I throw one hell of a party.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Big In Japan

The Travelers Return

Hello again- I'm back from a New Year's jaunt to the Land of the Rising Sun, and my resolutions include eating more like a Japanese person. This was my second trip to Japan (something I never dreamed I would be able to say), and I was lucky enough to explore it with a Japanese friend who knew the terrain, and my boyfriend who was seeing it for the first time. We really packed it in during our ten day trip, and saw Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, Kamakura and Inari. And the photo on the right? I didn't take it, but I ate damn near everything pictured.

Japan is a culinary wonderland from my perspective. It helps that I'm the least picky eater imaginable, and knowing specifically what I'm eating isn't terribly important to me. I love seafood and sea vegetables, and things with tentacles make me say "mmm!", which is perhaps not usual for Americans (I credit my Italian ancestry; long, skinny countries surrounded by water tend to eat squid). But in reality there is very little that is terribly strange about real Japanese food. Dishes that are delightfully fresh, light and healthy are the norm rather than the exception, and the Japanese insist that even their cheapest fast food tastes good. Nobody has higher standards for food quality than Japan.

With the help of my Japanese college buddy, Ranko, I raided the housewares section of a Japanese supermarket, and picked up some stable ingredients at a Japanese supermarket. I now own a daikon grater, a sesame seed grinder, and a little square pan for making tamago (the egg thingy that comes in most sushi entrees). I'm planning a Japanese dinner party this weekend, so stay tuned to see what I come up with. Ranko recommends roasting enoki mushrooms with soy sauce and sake...I'm psyched...