Friday, October 28, 2011

Carnitas Bahn Mi

It would seem my julienne mandoline is my chattiest kitchen gadget, because in addition to urging me to make green mango salad, the other day it pretty much demanded that I make banh mi from some leftover carnitas. It's going to ask for some bibimbap one of these days, just you wait. Carnitas is super simple to make—you won't find a better explanation than Homesick Texan's—and leaves you with oodles of tender yet crispy flavorful pork. The first night, I served it with tortillas and black beans, and rice, and loads of spicy green salsa.

Immediately afterwards, I started dreaming about pairing the pork with a fluffy white baguette and some crispy, tart veggies. You know you're obsessed with food when you start planning your next meal immediately after finishing the last one. My plan involved some quick pickles, daikon and carrot. I worked off the Momofuku recipe, only I seriously reduced (almost eliminated) the sugar. I'm in the Anthony Myint camp on this one. His Mission Street Food cookbook is, if possible, even funnier than Momofuku. It hardly has any recipes, but he includes this choice piece of advice:
I recommend cutting back or even omitting the sugar from most pickle recipes. You can always add a pinch of sugar later, but honestly, I've never thought, "The problem with these pickles is that they're not sweet enough."
 The man speaks the truth.

The only other important ingredient is a fluffy white baguette. Strangely the Mission Mexican markets around me all stock Vietnamese french bread. Otherwise, I would recommend giving the loaves at your local market a quick, surreptitious squeeze. You're looking for light, squishy (not dense) bread.

Quick Pickles (Momofuku cookbook minus the sugar)
2 carrots, peeled
Half a daikon, peeled

1. Run your veggies over a julienne mandoline, being very careful not to cut your fingers.

2. Place them (the veggies, not your fingers) in a container with pickle brine: 1 cup of piping hot tap water, 1/2 cup rice vinegar, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, small pinch of sugar.

3. Pickles are ready to eat in 24 hours.

Carnitas Bahn Mi
Leftover carnitas (use your favorite recipe or try Homesick Texan's version)
1 white baguette per person (make sure the interior is fluffy and soft)
Quick pickles from the recipe above
Thinly sliced jalapenos
Mayonnaise (optional)

1. Slice the baguette in half. Spread with mayo and sriracha, then stuff with carnitas and stick it under the broiler for 5-6 minutes until bread is slightly crusty and meat is reheated.

2. Remove from oven and scatter over pickles, jalapenos, and cilantro.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Green Mango Salad

Some days I will spend the better part of an hour looking through cookbooks and dying for inspiration to strike. I mean, I love me some food porn, but there is something about reading recipe after recipe that sucks all of the fun out of cooking. On good days, things come together a lot more spontaneously. Last weekend I noticed that Trader Joe's is now selling green mango, a treat I normally have to trek all the way to the East Bay to source. My mom had literally just given me a little Korean gadget that I was dying to try out. And to top things off, there was a Vietnamese pork loaf languishing in my fridge. Some people impulse buy magazines and candy. I splurge on mystery meats at the Chinese market.

Green mango salad was the obvious conclusion, and True Thai is my go-to source for that kind of thing. It did not disappoint. I added some romaine lettuce to bulk the salad out, swapped out the green onions for cilantro, and reduced the amount of sugar in the dressing. In the future, I'd probably use a poached chicken breast, grilled shrimp, or smoked tofu in place of the pork loaf, because I only have pork loaf around once in a blue moon, and I intend to eat this salad a lot more often than that.

Green Mango Salad
(adapted from True Thai by Victor Sodsook)

1 green mango (this is much firmer and more tart than a regular mango, and available at Asian supermarkets or possibly your branch of Trader Joe's)
1 large handful of cilantro, washed and chopped
1 head romaine lettuce, cut into bite-sized pieces
Vietnamese pork loaf (optional), in bite-sized chunks

3 limes
3 tablespoons of fish sauce
2 red chilis, sliced thinly
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar
1 thinly sliced shallot

1. Peel the mango, either with a sharp knife or vegetable peeler. Then run it over a julienne mandoline (available at some Asian supermarkets; I also found this one on Amazon). This gadget, by the way, is my new favorite thing. So much easier than busting out the food processor.

2. Place all of the salad ingredients in a large bowl.

3. Mix all of the dressing ingredients together (my preferred method is to shake them up in a small jar or Snapware).

4. Dress the salad and dig in.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Black Quinoa Salad with Cucumber and Corn

Continuing in the quick and easy salad vein, this was a little something I literally threw together fifteen minutes before dinnertime to prevent my husband from running out to get takeout from the truly awful Due Drop In. We tried this place once, because our neighborhood, while long on the regional Italian and taquerias, is a bit lacking in terms of healthy food options. It was a mistake, but somehow one my husband refuses to acknowledge. He loves leafy greens so much, that he'd settle for undercooked, underseasoned chard and dried out rotisserie chicken (hey, even Safeway manages to turn out a halfway decent bird).

His threat offer to grab dinner from Due Drop In was all it took to jolt me out of my too-lazy-to-make-dinner stupor and throw together something quick and tasty. Our usual grains—brown rice and farro—would take too long, so I boiled up some quinoa, rummaged in the fridge, and served this alongside some grilled chicken thighs. The addition of butter was inspired by The Kitchenist. I thought a smidge of butter would work nicely with the corn. Other than that, this salad is strikingly similar to the chickpea salad I last posted, but somehow manages to taste quite different. The quinoa adds a nuttiness in place of the creamy avocado and the result is sort of tabbouleh-esque. Two tips for cooking the quinoa: rinse first to remove any bitterness and use plenty of cooking water (I used more than the package instructed, then drained the quinoa after boiling it for fifteen minutes). Instead of melting the butter and making an extra dirty dish, I simply swirled a small pat of butter into the cooked quinoa before tossing with the rest of the salad.

Black Quinoa Salad with Cucumber and Corn
1 cup quinoa (rinsed and cooked in at least 2½ cups of water)
1 english cucumber or 2 persian cucumbers, seeded and diced
1 ear of corn, kernels removed with a knife
Handful of Italian parsley, chopped
Juice from two limes
Pinch of sea salt
Small pat of butter

Swirl the butter into the cooked quinoa to melt. Toss all ingredients together in a salad bowl.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Super-Simple Chickpea Salad

Skipping straight from hearty chicken and dumplings to a heat-wave-worthy salad is a sure sign that it's been a long break from blogging for me. In my defense, I did make a baby. So when I say this simple dish can be knocked out in your sleep, I'm not really exaggerating by much.

This salad was inspired by my friend Diana, who whipped up a version with canned corn and the disclaimer that "it doesn't look like much, but it's really tasty." You can really play around with the veggies here. Add red bell pepper for sweetness if corn's not in season. Swap out the chickpeas for black beans. Include some finely diced persian cucumbers or fennel bulb or a handful of juicy cherry tomatoes. You can make a dressing by mixing the lime juice with olive oil if you like, but I find just a generous squeeze of lime juice along with a pinch of sea salt to be all the seasoning this salad needs.

Chickpea, Corn, and Avocado Salad

1 red onion, very finely diced
1 can of chickpeas, drained
1 ripe avocado, diced
1 ear of white corn, kernels removed with a knife
Juice from 2 limes
Pinch of sea salt
Handful of Italian parsley, chopped

1. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and toss well.

Tada! Officially the shortest recipe I've ever written.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Curried Chicken and Dumplings

All of this winter weather has given me the most intense craving for chicken and dumplings. Soft doughy dumplings nestled in a warm, savory stew hit all the right notes for a cold day. But sometimes all that bland on bland crosses the line between comforting and coma-inducing. So I played around with my latest spice purchase and came up with this extra-warming version.

Like the folks at Simply Recipes, I grew up on Bisquick dumplings. But dumplings are actually super easy to make from scratch. Just mix a few ingredients in a bowl and plop them onto whatever you're cooking, then cover and steam. These dumplings, adapted from The Noshery, include cornmeal in the base, which gives them a stodgy, homey quality that is extra-filling. My husband likened this dish to Indian matzo ball soup, which I think encapsulates its slightly exotic but restorative character quite nicely.

Curried Chicken and Dumplings (inspired by The Noshery)

4-6 boneless skinless chicken thighs (or a whole chicken, deboned)
1 onion, diced
1 small fennel bulb, diced
3 or 4 stalks of celery, cut into chunks
2 or 3 carrots, cut into chunks
1 daikon or 2 purple turnips, peeled and cut into chunks
1 small Yukon gold potato, cut into tiny dice (optional)
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 or 2 tablespoons of Penzeys hot curry powder (or other curry powder)
½ tablespoon of cayenne pepper (optional)
1 box of low-sodium chicken broth (4 cups)
Olive oil
Flour for dusting
Salt and pepper to taste

1½ cups of all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup coarsely ground corn meal
Pinch of salt
1¾ cup whole fat milk

1. Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces. Heat olive oil in a stew pot or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid and sprinkle a little flour, salt, and freshly ground pepper over the chicken pieces. Cook the chicken until it has a little color on all sides.

2. Add diced onion and fennel to the pot, along with the dried tarragon and cook for a few minutes, or until vegetables have softened.

3. Add celery, carrots, daikon/turnip, and potato (if using), cover with chicken broth. Stir ingredients together, season with curry powder and cayenne. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and let the stew simmer for 20-30 minutes. The potato should break down and thicken the stew slightly, you could alternately stir in a little flour mixed with cold water.

4. While stew is simmering, combine the dumpling ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir until combined (do not overmix).

5. Taste the stew and adjust seasoning as necessary. Then drop heaping tablespoons of the dumpling mixture into the pot. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes more. You can cook the dumplings all at once and reheat them along with the stew the next day, or you can easily halve the dumpling recipe.