Saturday, May 29, 2010

Kale and Red Cabbage Slaw

I’ve blogged before about my ever-growing cole slaw repertoire. I’ve tried Burmese, Thai, and Indian twists on the American classic, recreated the excellent version from Leon in London, and tested countless other variations that didn’t quite make the cut to share with you. But call off the search, because this is it. The ultimate. The humdinger. The cole slaw I’ll be eating at least once a week all summer long. Just assembling the ingredients sparked my appetite. The vibrant ribbons of dark green kale and deep purple cabbage, highlighted with a smattering of bright white corn and crumbled cotija cheese, are as pretty as a still life. And the incredible dressing is tangy, vibrant, and totally mayo-free. 
I’ve already served this slaw alongside tacos and atop a brown rice bowl, but it would pair equally well with burgers, grilled salmon, or roast chicken. It’s terrifically versatile, and the kale and red cabbage are such sturdy vegetables that this doesn’t get soggy and wilt like other cole slaws. I never would have stumbled onto this recipe, except that I’ve been obsessed with The Family Chef, an unlikely gem of a cookbook from some personal chefs to the stars. This is normally the kind of thing that triggers my gag reflex, and yet having cooked from the book for months now, it's how I want to eat every day—healthful, flavorful food that’s not incredibly elaborate or expensive. (The book is also absurdly cheap at Amazon right now, I'm seeing used copies for under $3).

Kale and Red Cabbage Slaw (Adapted from a recipe by Jewels and Jill Elmore)
Though the original recipe suggests rice vinegar as a substitute, I highly recommend tracking down coconut vinegar. It added a terrific tartness to the dressing and has become my new secret ingredient. I found a bottle at Rainbow Grocery. You can look for it in your local health food store, or online.

1 bunch of kale
½ head of red cabbage
¼ cup chopped cilantro
1 ear of white corn
¼ cup crumbled cotija cheese

1 shallot, peeled and minced
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 1 lime)
3 tablespoons coconut vinegar
2 tablespoons best quality olive oil
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of ground cumin

1. Wash the kale and separate the leaves from the stems using a sharp knife or by tearing it with your hands. Slice the leaves into thin ribbons and dry well. Discard the stems.

2. Core and wash the red cabbage. Slice into thin ribbons and dry well.

3. Husk and wash the corn and cut the kernels off with a sharp knife.

4. In a large bowl, mix the cabbage, kale, and corn, along with the cotija cheese and cilantro.

5. Mix all the dressing ingredients together (I like to use a small jar with a lid or a tiny Snapware container and just shake them all up). Toss the slaw with the dressing and let sit for ten minutes for the flavors to meld.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup

Here in the U.S., we only get access to the tip of the noodle iceberg. It's a sad state of affairs for noodle lovers like myself. Even in San Francisco, the noodle dishes we can easily find numbers at about a dozen: pho, wonton noodle soup, ramen, spicy beef noodles...the greatest hits, if you will. If you want to explore further, say, sip some bun bo hue, or savor a bowl of laksa, you need to hunt those treasures out. And some dishes, like the following spicy chicken noodle soup, are simply unavailable no matter how hard you look.

But let's say you're a true fanatic, and you just have to get your spicy chicken noodle fix. Well then, clear your calendar, because these noodles take two weeks to make. Just kidding. Sort of. It takes about half an hour of work to make this dish, but you will need to wait two weeks for the chilis to cure. Is it worth it? To borrow a word, abso-f*cking-lutely.

The steamed chicken is tender and flavorful, with just the faintest fragrant hit of rice wine, and the ruby-red chilies infuse the broth with a scalding heat that's at the teasing edge of discomfort. Though the ingredients are deceptively simple, the results are unlike any noodle soup I've ever eaten, and that's saying something.

Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup (adapted from Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook by Fuchsia Dunlop)
I was craving the bland, slightly sweet crunch of slivered bamboo shoots in this dish, but the original version does not include them. This makes enough for two bowls of noodles.

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon shaoxing wine
¾ cup slivered bamboo shoots
1½ teaspoon chopped salted chilis (see recipe below)
2 bundles of rice, egg, or wheat noodles (I used mai fun)
3 cups homemade chicken broth
2 big handfuls of fresh, washed vegetables (I used pea sprouts, but spinach, baby bok choy, or almost any green veggie would work).

1. Fill a medium-sized pot about halfway with water and bring to a boil. Cut the chicken into bite-sized chunks. Blanch the chicken briefly (just until the water returns to a boil, which should be under a minute). Drain.

2. Mix the chicken, ginger, rice wine, chilies, and bamboo shoots in a heatproof bowl. Add about an inch of water into the pot you used to blanch the chicken and place a collapsible or silicone steamer inside the pot. Balance the bowl on top of the steamer and cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid.
3. Steam chicken over high heat for about 20 minutes, until it is entirely cooked through.

4. Meanwhile, in a separate pot, heat your broth. Fill yet another pot with water (this is not a dish for those without dishwashers) and bring to a boil. Cook your noodles according to package instructions. In the last 30 seconds or so, add your veggies to blanch them.

5. To assemble each bowl: Place a bundle of noodles in the bottom of the bowl. Top with chicken-chili mixture and blanched vegetables. Ladle broth on top.

Hunanese Chopped Salted Chilis (adapted from Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook by Fuchsia Dunlop)
I happened to have a bunch of leftover Thai red chilis lying around from a homemade sriracha making experiment, and this was the perfect way to keep them from going to waste. You can use milder chilis if you prefer. For more ideas about what to do with these, see how Sea Salt With Food uses them.

1. Take a pound of fresh red chilis. Wash and dry them very well.

2. Chop the chilis into small pieces and place them in a bowl. Add 3½ tablespoons of kosher salt. Mix well.

3. Place the chili-salt mixture in an airtight container and add another ½ tablespoon of salt in a thin layer on top. Seal the container and store in a dark, cool place for a couple of weeks. Once opened, store the container in the refrigerator, where the chilis will keep for months.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pineapple Raita and Green Mango Pickle

To me, no Indian meal is complete without all the accompanying sides. My standbys are a little raita to cool things down, a little pickle to perk things up, and of course plenty of fluffy, fragrant basmati rice. Don't think of these sides as entire extra dishes to cook. They're more like condiments, and each shouldn't take much longer to whip up than a salad dressing.

Ideally you'll make the pickles the day before, but these unusual quick pickles can actually be eaten as soon as you make them. Please note that the key ingredient, green mango, is quite different from the sweet, ripened mango you commonly see in stores. Green mangoes are firm, with pale yellow interiors, and a tart flavor that contains no trace of sweetness. I found these green mangoes at the Indian grocery store attached to Vik's Chaat House. Berkeley Bowl also carries them. In lieu of a green mango, you could try making this with the hardest, least ripe mango you can find.
The raita is reverse engineered from a version that we had at Sakoon in Mountain View. You can make many versions of this simple salad, playing with different spices like mustard seeds and coriander, or substituting fennel, cucumber, or slightly wilted spinach for the pineapple. The pineapple version, however, is particularly refreshing and unusual, with a subtle sweetness that really plays well with the spicy, earthy flavors of an Indian curry.

Green Mango Pickle (adapted from Veggie Belly)
1 green mango
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
2 pinches asafoetida
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons red chili powder (or cayenne)
¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
Scant ¾ tablespoon salt

1. Peel and dice the green mango into ½ inch pieces.

2. Heat a small skillet and toast the fenugreek until it becomes fragrant (about two minutes). Transfer to a spice grinder and grind to a powder.

3. Place the mango in a bowl, and mound the turmeric, chili powder, and fenugreek powder on top.

4. In the same skillet you used to toast the fenugreek, heat the oil. Add the mustard seeds and once those begin to pop, quickly add the asafoetida.

5. Pour the hot, spiced oil onto the mound of dried spices. Add the salt. Stir well. You can eat immediately, or seal in an airtight container and refrigerate. The flavor will intensify over time. I actually preferred this in its earlier stages, but my husband loved the super salty mature pickle. NOTE: My batch kept for about a month. Go Snapware!

Pineapple Raita (inspired by a dish at Sakoon Restaurant)
2 cups Greek yogurt (I used non-fat)
Healthy pinch of salt
Juice from half a lime (or more, to taste)
Generous ¼ cup of very finely diced fresh pineapple
Handful of cilantro leaves, minced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1. In a small, dry skillet, toast the cumin seeds until they begin to darken and turn fragrant (about a minute). Transfer to a spice grinder and grind to a powder.

2. Reserving a small amount of pineapple and cilantro for garnishing, combine the cumin with all the other ingredients and let sit for ten minutes for flavors to meld. Top with the reserved garnish and serve. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

Naga Hot, Hot, Hot Wings

Is there a more perfect party food than hot wings? They're cheap, easy-to-make, and people go completely kookoo for them. The only way to make hot wings even better, in my book at least, is to make them hotter. Enter naga hot sauce. The infamous naga is the hottest known pepper on the planet—a blistering three times hotter than the habanero (that's forty times hotter than the wimpy jalapeno). These peppers are guaranteed to make even the most experienced spice eater break a sweat, so you know I was dying to cook with them.

I made these wings in batches, both in a 425 degree oven, and under the broiler, and the broiler version was hands-down the best hot wing I've ever eaten. Extra crispy skin, tender meat, and just enough heart-pounding heat to keep you reaching for the next adrenaline rush. Cool off with the traditional accompaniment of celery sticks and a mayo-free blue cheese dip.

Naga Hot, Hot, Hot Wings
3 dozen wings
2 tablespoons of butter, melted
1 5 oz. bottle Frank's Original Red Hot sauce
1 tablespoon Dave's Insanity Ghost Pepper sauce
Salt and Pepper

Celery Sticks
Blue Cheese Dip (see recipe below)

1. Prepare the wings by removing the wing tip (freeze these for making chicken broth), then cutting the wing in two along the joint. Season the wings with salt and pepper.

2. In a small bowl, melt the butter (about 20 seconds in the microwave) and mix with the two hot sauces. Taste and make adjustments if necessary.

3. Coat the wings well in the hot sauce and let marinate for half an hour at room temperature (or up to a day in the fridge).

4. Position your top shelf fairly close to the broiler and turn your broiler to high. Arrange the wings on a rack in a baking pan. Broil for about 8 minutes per side, until chicken is cooked through. I did this in batches of 12 at a time so the wings were all piping hot when served.

Mayo-Less Blue Cheese Dip
1 cup sour cream
1 cup Greek yogurt
Healthy pinch of salt
1 cup crumbled blue cheese (I used Bleu D'Auvergne)
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Spiced Up Chicken Tikka Masala

It's probably pretty hypocritical of me to follow up my Kung Pao chicken post with possibly the most famous faux ethnic dish in existence, chicken tikka masala. But I can't help myself. Chicken tikka masala is what first turned me onto Indian food. It's a creamy, savory, and spicy concoction that, properly prepared, can taste just as complex and layered as an authentic Indian curry.

Traditionally this dish does not have the fiery heat of a vindaloo or that other Anglicized Indian dish, phal, but you know I had to fix that. I used a mixture of fresh chilies and my magic ingredient: Indian red chili powder. I use this spice so much when I cook, that my husband actually joked: We'd better hope there's nothing unhealthy in it. Uh, whoops. I guess I should switch over to domestically-grown chili powder at some point.

I've made this recipe with both cream and whole milk. The cream is more traditional, but I hardly ever have any in the house and it makes the whole dish milder anyway, which means adding even more lead-laced chili powder to balance things out. I also changed the recipe a bit to make this a one-pot dish, but you can certainly grill the chicken separately and add it to the warmed sauce as Jamie Oliver suggests in the original recipe. You will also need a small pan to heat the mustard seeds. Whenever I cook Indian food, I find it useful to dedicate one small pan to toasting spices and making tarkas anyway. Just give it a quick wipe with a damp cloth or paper towel between uses.

Spiced Up Chicken Tikka Masala (adapted from Jamie's Dinners, by Jamie Oliver)
Please note, as with most of the recipes on this site, the amount of chili indicated is way above average. Unless you are the kind of person who has developed multiple strategies for ordering spicy food in Mexican, Thai, and Indian restaurants, start with half of the amount suggested and work up from there. 

6 cloves of garlic, peeled
3 inches of fresh ginger, peeled
4-5 fresh chilies (I used serranos that had turned red from sitting around for a week)
Olive oil
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon hot paprika
1 tablespooon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons garam masala
1½ tablespoons of Indian red chili powder (or cayenne)
¾ cup plain yogurt
1 whole chicken, skinless, deboned, and cut into bite-sized chunks (freeze the wings and carcass for chicken broth)
1 tablespoon ghee or butter
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced finely
2 tablespoons of tomato paste (you can freeze the rest)
Salt to taste
½ cup of whole milk or heavy cream
Handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice of 1-2 limes

1. Toss the garlic, ginger (cut it into a few pieces first) and chilies into a food processor and blitz until it's a coarse paste. You could also mince them all with a knife, if you're not lazy like I am.

2. Heat a splash of oil in a small frying pan and add the mustard seeds. Once they begin to pop (after about 30 seconds), add them to your ginger/garlic/chili paste. Then add all your spices (paprika, cumin, coriander, garam masala, and chili powder). Now. Pay attention. If I told you that I messed this part up not once, but twice, would that make you respect me less? Take half of the spice mixture, I repeat, HALF, and add it to a bowl or ziplock bag large enough to hold your chicken pieces. Add the yogurt, mix everything together, and marinate the chicken in this for half an hour or so. This would be a good time to get another dish started, like dal or raita.

3. After the chicken has been marinated for a bit, take a large pot or dutch oven, melt the ghee or butter in it, and add the sliced onions. Now, picture my expression when I got to the next step and saw that I was supposed to add the other half of the spice mix—you know, the half I remembered to save—to the onions. Cut to me frantically preparing a new batch of spice mix and making a very unhappy face. Add the half of the spice mix that you, genius that you are, were smart enough to set aside.

4. Cook the onions and spices for 8 minutes or so over medium heat. Then add the chicken pieces and brown them on all sides for another 8 minutes. 

5. Now add the tomato paste, 2½ cups of water, and salt to taste. Place a lid on the pot, turn the heat down to medium low, and let the whole thing simmer for 30-45 minutes.

6. Just before serving, stir in the milk (or cream), chopped cilantro, and lime juice.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Real Kung Pao Chicken

My first date with my husband only lasted a couple of hours, but in that short time he managed to inform me that he hated sunshine, karaoke, coffee, San Francisco, and Chinese food. Item for item that was pretty much my go-to response for the "things I love" section of the multiple dating social networking sites I belonged to at the time. I guess it's true what they say about opposites attracting. Still, you'd better believe I launched my campaign to convert him to a Chinese food lover as soon as the words were out of his mouth. It started with the really easy-to-like stuff: homemade potstickers, wonton soup. Soon he was seeking out the best Szechuan hot pot with me. These days, I make Chinese food nearly once a week and he always goes back for seconds.

I understand what his problem was. There's a lot of bad, greasy, Americanized slop out there masquerading as Chinese food. Some of the top offenders—beef with broccoli and egg foo young come to mind—aren't even based on actual Chinese dishes, while others, like Kung Pao chicken have been watered down beyond all recognition. Instead of the slightly-sweet, gloppy-sauced hodgepodge you get from your local take-out, picture wok-charred chicken in a sea of smoky red chilis, finished with a tongue-tingling dose of Szechuan peppercorn. If this doesn't convert you into a believer, nothing will.

Real Kung Pao Chicken (adapted from Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop)

2 boneless chicken breasts
3 cloves of garlic, minced
Equivalent amount of minced ginger
4-5 green onions, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon of canola or peanut oil
½ tablespoon cayenne or Indian red chili powder
1 tablespoon of Sichuan peppercorns
Large handful (at least 10) dried red chilis (I used de Arbol)
Large handful of roasted unsalted peanuts

2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine
1½ teaspoons corn starch

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon black Chinese vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon chicken stock or water

1. Cut the chicken into bite-sized chunks. Mix all the marinade ingredients together, making sure the corn starch is completely dissolved. Then marinate the chicken for about 15 minutes.

2. With a pair of kitchen scissors, snip the chilis in half. Place these, along with all of your other ingredients (garlic, green onions, ginger, chili powder, peppercorns, peanuts) near the wok.

3. Combine all of the sauce ingredients in a small bowl, mix well, and taste. Adjust seasonings if necessary.

4. Turn on your overhead vent. Heat up a tablespoon of oil in your wok over high heat and wait for it to get fairly hot. Add the chilis, cayenne, and Szechuan peppercorn and stir until they become fragrant and darken slightly (about 2 minutes).

5. Add the chicken pieces to the wok and stir them around, making sure you maintain a high heat. Break the pieces up, then add the ginger and garlic and stir fry for a few minutes until the chicken is nearly cooked through. Add the green onions and stir for another 30 seconds.

6. Give the bowl of sauce a final stir, then add it to the hot wok. Mix well so that all the ingredients are coated. Add the peanuts, give another stir, and serve, piping hot.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ma Po Tofu

Ma po tofu is hands down one of my favorite Chinese dishes. Spicy chili-red sauce, creamy chunks of tofu, and a tongue-tingling dose of Szechuan peppercorns form a combination that's improbably comforting and exciting at the same time. For years, cooking this dish at home meant reaching for a box of House brand ma po tofu sauce. But I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Making the sauce is the easiest part of what is already an easy-to-make dish. The results will taste a thousand times better, not to mention give you control over just how spicy, salty, or ma la you dare to go.

The essential ingredient for Ma po tofu is Szechuan peppercorn. For those who have never tasted it, it's unlike anything else, more of a sensation than a flavor. It imparts a slightly fizzy, numbing feeling, which is called "ma la" in Chinese and is completely different from the more common spiciness we associate with chilis. The other ingredient that will have a big impact on your dish is the chili paste. You want to use your favorite brand of dou ban jiang. I like to bump mine up with a healthy dose of red chili powder to truly sweat-inducing spice levels. 

Normally Fuchsia Dunlop is my go-to source for Szechuanese recipes, but I was disappointed with the results I got from her recipe. Rasa Malaysia's version was a much better starting point for me, but I still ended up making a few tweaks. I really like the funky depth that the fermented black beans add, so I tripled the amount she uses. I also like to add a bit of ginger to balance things out. It's really all about what flavors you prefer, so experiment with the proportions. Traditionally this dish is served in a pool of ruby-red oil, but this lightened version, while less authentic, is probably more palatable to the average American.

Ma Po Tofu (adapted from Rasa Malaysia)
2 blocks of silken tofu
½ pound of lean ground pork
3 tablespoons of chili bean paste (dou ban jiang)
3 cloves of minced garlic
Equivalent amount of minced ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1½ tablespoons of Indian chili powder or cayenne
1 tablespoon of Szechuan peppercorn
2 stalks of green onion, sliced
1 tablespoon of canola or peanut oil
1 tablespoon of black fermented beans, rinsed and pounded. Note: Fermented black beans come in jars, cans, and plastic bags. You are looking for the bagged variety.
1. Heat up the oil in a large wok and stir fry the ginger and garlic until they become fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown.

2. Add the chili bean paste to the pan and cook for another minute. Add the pork, along with the chili powder and soy sauce. Break up the pork and mix well with all the sauce ingredients. Cook for about 4-5 minutes, until pork is cooked but not at all dry. Add the black beans and about ½ cup of water.

3. Drain the tofu well and slice it into chunks (I just cut it right inside the plastic container). Slide the tofu into the wok and allow it to simmer in the sauce for 3-5 minutes, until it is completely heated through and the sauce has thickened slightly.

4. While the tofu is heating, toast the peppercorns in a dry pan over medium heat for a few minutes, until they darken and release their fragrance. Do not let them burn. Grind in a spice grinder and scatter over the tofu, stirring once or twice to mix it in. Tip: A few months ago, I started saving the spent peppercorns from my chili oil, running them through my spice grinder, and keeping them in an airtight container in my fridge. I use them any time a recipe calls for toasted, ground peppercorn, and actually prefer their flavor, which is somehow less abrasive than the dry-toasted peppercorn. 

5. Scatter green onions over just before serving.