Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Blackened Fish Tacos (Eat tacos. Drink beer. Love life.)




Not quite how they make them in Baja, but I actually like this better--no fried fish or heavy sauce. Light and delicious!

Note that blackening the fish will create a lot of smoke in your kitchen. If you can't keep a window open to ventilate, you may wish to fry at a lower temperature and not use the oven... or poach the fish in tequila, lime juice and cilantro after a flash fry--both methods are also very delicious.

Prep time: 3 cocktails (including Pico and homemade tortillas)

1 pound catfish, tilapia or other eco-conscious white fish... cheap fish is just fine—you’re just gonna spice the hell out of it
Several large pinches of each of the following: ground cayenne pepper, ground cumin, Cajun seasoning, chili powder, dried oregano, salt, pepper
1/3 bunch of cilantro, minced
A dozen small corn tortillas, store-bought or from scratch (click here for recipe)
1-2 cups cabbage, shredded
1/2 batch Pico de Gallo (click here for recipe)
Finely shredded jack cheese (optional)
3 limes, quartered
Hot sauce—Important: use only Tapatio or Chilula… Tabasco sauce will ruin the tacos, as will other vinegar-based hot sauces.

Preheat oven to 350.

Soak raw fish filets in the canola oil for about 20 minutes, flipping occasionally. Then put fish on a large plate and sprinkle with very generous pinches the dry spices, salt, and pepper. Flip filets and repeat spice application.

Heat a dry frying pan on the highest possible heat. Fry filets for a minute or so on each side. Then place fried filets in a casserole pan or cookie sheet. Sprinkle the cilantro on top and add another bit of salt and pepper.

Bake 20-30 minutes, depending on thickness of filets. You want the fish to cook through, but still be tender and juicy inside.

When done, chop up into chunks that are small enough to make good fish tacos.

If your tortillas aren't warm, heat them up a bit in the microwave (or for more authentic tacos, fry each tortilla in very hot oil for 1-2 seconds on each side). Fill each taco with equal parts fish, pico and cabbage. Give each taco a squeeze of lime, a bit of cheese (if using), and add a few splashes of hot sauce.

Eat tacos. Drink beer. Love life.

Pico De Gallo




This is as simple as it gets. Perfect for chips, fish tacos, or damn near anything else.

2/3 of a bunch cilantro, minced and divided
4 tomatoes, chopped (vine ripened only, don’t use Roma or others)
1 small red onion, chopped
4 jalapeños, chopped
1 tsp salt
Juice of 2 limes
2 cloves garlic, minced

Combine everything in a big bowl and stir well. Eat the shit out of it!

Homemade Corn Tortillas

After living in Mexico for a year, I eventually realized that store-bought corn tortillas in the states are a crime against humanity. They are dry, taste weird, and have the wrong texture. So stop buying them! The difference between homemade tortillas and store-bought is about the same as homemade bread and Wonder Bread. Really.

This recipe and others call for masa harina. It's corn flour made from lime-treated, de-hulled corn. It's available in the Mexican or baking aisle of just about any supermarket or any Mexican grocer. Note that you can't use plain old 'corn flour,' as it often is processed with the hulls on and will likely result in some very bizarre 'tortillas.'

Two key tricks I learned in cooking school in Mexico are to add use just a bit of white flour. This gives the tortillas strength, so they won't fall apart when you load them up. Also, use the hottest water possible when you make the tortillas, as the masa doesn't dissolve correctly in cold water.

Also, you’ll need a tortilla press: a small and inexpensive appliance available at most kitchen shops and online.

2 cups masa harina
1/4 cup white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water, as hot as you're able to touch

Heat a non-stick griddle or seasoned cast-iron pan over medium heat.

While pan heats up, combine first 3 ingredients in mixing bowl. With your hands, gradually knead in the water until you've reached the consistency of Play-Doh or soft cookie-dough and is plenty moist but won't stick to the sides of the bowl or your hands (this may require more than 1 cup of water, depending on the masa). Roll the dough into ping-pong-sized balls and cover them with plastic wrap or something to prevent drying (if they do get dry, just wet your hands before putting each ball into the press and gently re-roll them. This should re-introduce enough moisture.)

Place a ball in the tortilla press with a sheet of plastic wrap or waxed paper both above and below the ball. With your hands, flatten the ball a bit, then and press well. Now if you look closely, the press has likely made your tortilla a little flatter on one side than the other, which you don't want. So flip the tortilla over and reverse sides (the top right should become the bottom left). Now press once again, but very, very gently this time; you're not trying to smash it, just to even it all out.

Carefully extract your tortilla from the plastic or waxed paper and gently lay it on the griddle or pan. Dry fry about 30 seconds, or until it changes color slightly and the tortilla's edges lift slightly. Flip and repeat, cooking this side more like 60 seconds. Now flip once again, so the first side is down for another 45-60 seconds. If you've made the tortilla properly, it should poof up with air slightly. Now, start stacking in a tortilla-sized basket lined with a clean dish towel to seal in warmth and moisture as you cook the rest.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Red-Red: The Greatest Recipe Known to Humankind


If you've ever been to a dinner party at my house, the chances are good that you had red-red. I'm not kidding when I say it is the best recipe that will ever grace this (or any) blog. I should just hang up my apron after this, because it simply won't get any better.

Red-red is a traditional Ghanaian recipe of spicy black-eyed peas. Though it sounds odd, I must say that it is simply amazing. Red-red gets the name from dual red palm oil and tomatoes traditionally used to prepare this dish. It is also usually served with fried plantains (I typically opt for fried bananas). I also add a non-traditional twist by eating it with injera (click here for recipe), though the more traditional kenkey is great, as is plain old rice.

Also, if you like to make your black-eyed peas from scratch rather than purchasing store-bought, you'll want to increase the salt by roughly  2 tsp.

Prep time: 3 cocktails

1 cup red palm or canola oil
2 onions, chopped
1-3 habenero peppers, minced (I use 4)
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 tomatoes, vine ripened (not Roma or Hothouse), quartered
2 cans black eyed peas, drained
1-2 TBSP salt (depending on how much your canned beans have in them already)
¼ cup fresh, unpeeled ginger, grated (grate with smallest possible grating of cheese grater or Microplane; do not mince with knife!)
3 ounces tomato paste (1/2 small can)
2 tsp shrimp powder (optional)
Ground black pepper to taste
2-3 bananas or plantains, sliced into 1" wheels (optional)
Injera or kenkey for serving (rice or flour tortillas make acceptable alternatives as accompaniments)

In large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat oil on medium heat. Add onions and sauté about 5 minutes, until softened. Add peppers and garlic. Cook a few more minutes. Add tomatoes and cook 1 more minute.

Transfer to a food processor bowl and puree into a sauce.

Return onion/tomato sauce to pan or Dutch oven and reduce heat to a nice simmer, stirring frequently.

Meanwhile, drain the black-eyed peas and mash up about 1/3 of them in the cans or a separate bowl. Add all peas to the tomato mixture. Also add the salt, ginger, tomato paste, and shrimp powder (if using). Let simmer about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add black pepper.

Stirring occasionally, simmer 20 minutes or until you reach consistency of a thick stew. Add additional salt, if needed—it should be a fairly (but not crazy) salty dish. Same with the spiciness: it should be really hot. If it's not, add some cayenne powder.

As the red-red simmers, heat a couple more tablespoons of oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. When it gets hot, add the bananas, flat-side down with a tongs. Once the bottoms get browned but not burned (about 3 minutes), flip and repeat. Remove and gently pat with a paper towel or cloth to remove excess oil.

Now tear your kenkey or injera into bite-sized pieces. You'll use these pieces to work like an edible scoop--no utensils here!

Eat the shit out of this and let me know how awesome it is!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Aloo Gobi: It'll Turn You Into an Indian Grandmother Too




I was told last night after I served Aloo Gobi that I "could pass for an Indian grandmother." I guess I should take that as a compliment. Though, I suppose I probably do have the liver of an Indian grandmother at this point... so why not the cooking skills too?

Anyhow, aloo gobi is a classic dry curry of potatoes and cauliflower that originates in the Punjab region. It is great served with rice, chapati, or naan. Note that this recipe calls for ghee. Ghee is clarified butter than can be found at any Asian grocer or natural food store. You can also make it easily at home using directions found online. If you're not on the butter program, substituting canola oil is fine (though not quite as tasty).

Prep time: 2 cocktails

2 jalapeño or Serrano chilies, chopped
2 tsp whole cumin seed
1 inch ginger piece, chopped finely or grated
½ tsp black mustard seeds
3 bay leaves
¼ cup ghee or oil
2 medium-large russet potatoes, cut into 1/2 –inch cubes
1/2 head of cauliflower, divided into florets
1/2 cup water
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp paprika
1.5 tsp salt
1 TBSP brown sugar
1 bell pepper, chopped (optional)
2/3 cup cilantro, chopped

Combine chilies, cumin, ginger, mustard seeds, and bay leaves in a small bowl. Set aside.

Melt the ghee in a wok on medium heat. Add the spice mixture. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly, until the seeds turn a shade darker and become nice and aromatic. Add potato and cauliflower. Sauté for 8-10 minutes, or until the veggies begin to brown just a bit and you can smell the potatoes really beginning to cook.

Add water, turmeric, coriander, paprika, salt, brown sugar, and bell pepper. Reduce to low/medium-low and saute until all the veggies are tender, but not mushy… about 15-20 minutes. If it starts to stick, add a couple tablespoons of water.

Add cilantro, stir well and cook for 30 more seconds. Remove from heat and let stand for a few minutes before serving.

Serve over rice or with naan or chapati.

Momos!!!



These traditional Tibetan steamed dumplings are one of my favorite foods. They're typically served with a tomato chutney called achar. However, I think tomato achar tastes too much like Mexican salsa and is a pain in the ass to make. Instead, I just whisk together keycap manis (a sweet Indonesian soy sauce available at any Asian grocer) with Siracha and soy sauce.

Prep time 2-3 cocktails

Dough:
3 cups white flour
1 cup water

Filling:
2 Potatoes
3 TBSP ghee or oil
½ cup shallot, minced
2” Ginger, minced
2-4 cayenne or Serrano chilies, chopped
5 cloves Garlic, minced
Pinch of curry powder
3/4 cup additional shredded veggies (bell pepper, cabbage, daikon, bok choi, etc).
¾ tsp Salt
Several good grinds black pepper
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
2-4 cayenne or Serrano chilies, chopped
1 tsp cumin

Dipping Sauce:
4 TBSP keycap manis
2 TBSP Siracha
2 tsp soy sauce

Start with the dough. Combine flour and water in a bowl and mix well. With a stand mixer or by hand, knead the dough for 10 minutes. The consistency should be somewhat like pizza dough--if it is too dry, add a TBSP or two of water. Let stand at least 30 more minutes, covered.

Bake or microwave the potato. Cut into small cubes. Set aside in a covered container.

Heat the ghee or oil over medium heat in a frying pan or wok. Add all filling ingredients except the potatoes and sauté for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently until everything becomes a bit
tender. Add potatoes and sauté another minuter or two.

Bring a bamboo or stackable steamer to a boil on high heat.

Now assemble your momos. Divide the dough into 18 small balls and cover. With a rolling pin, roll a dough ball into a 4-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Spoon a few tablespoons of filling into the disk. Pinch the dumpling closed around the filling. As you may have noticed from the picture above, I'm not great at making this look very pretty. But there are many momo how-to videos online. I recommend you check them out before attempting.

After you're dumplings are formed, it's time to steam them. I recommend that you brush the bottom of the steamer with a bit of oil to prevent sticking. Steam 8-10 minutes or until dumplings are tender but not chewy and dried out.

While the momos steam, make the dipping sauce by whisking together the three ingredients.

Nepalese Dal: The Sacred Honda Civic of the Culinary World




When I traveled to Nepal, this is what everybody ate. It’s called Dal Bhat, or lentils with rice. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this dish in parts of India and Nepal. I was told that many people will go their entire lives without ever eating anything except this dish. During my few months there, I ate this for every meal myself.

While this dish excels in reliability, it lags a bit in sexy department.... It's kind of the Honda Civic of the culinary world. It's sacred to millions, but if you want some excitement for dinner, I recommend you make another Indian or Nepalese recipe and serve this as a side dish. Much like Steve Buscemi, dal bhat is always best in a supporting role.

Prep time: 1 cocktail

1 cup brown lentils
2 tsp ground coriander
½-inch piece ginger
2 tsp ground turmeric
½ pound fresh spinach or beet greens, chopped (optional)
2 TBSP ghee, butter, or oil
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp salt
2 tsp lemon juice
A dash of cayenne
Prepared rice (I like Forbidden Black)

In medium-sized saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add lentils, coriander, ginger, and turmeric. Stirring occasionally, bring to boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer, peeking in occasionally to stir. Continue stirring occasionally until the lentils begin to soften, about 30 minutes.

Remove lid and add spinach or beet greens, if using.

After adding the greens, in a medium frying pan or wok, heat the ghee over medium-high heat. When it’s up to temperature, add the cumin and fry until seeds turn a nice golden-brown. Immediately transfer the ghee and seeds to the lentils being careful not to splatter. Also add the salt, lemon juice and cayenne. Stir well and cook another couple minutes before serving over rice.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Rasta Pasta


Holy crap, I love this dish! Many years ago, I worked at a Jamaican fusion restaurant in Fort Collins. This is my take on their namesake dish--though my preparation is a lot better, I have to say. Maybe it's because I'm typically not as high as the cooks at the restaurant when I make it(?).

Anyway, the recipe calls for jerk paste. I provide the homemade recipe here, and it’s pretty quick and easy to make. But you can also purchase pre-made jerk paste (sometimes called wet jerk) at many gourmet shops and larger natural food stores like Whole Foods in the condiment aisle. Note that all storebought jerk pastes will vary in intensity and saltiness, so adding a little at a time is a good idea. And make sure you purchase paste and not powder.

Because this dish is pretty hot, you'll want to enjoy it with juice, a sweet cocktail, or a beer--preferably a ginger beer.

Prep time: 2 cocktails

1/3 cup canola oil
1 head garlic, minced (yes--an entire head!)
3 TBSP red wine
3 TBSP soy sauce
3 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 pinches dried basil
2 pinches dried oregano
1 tsp Cajun seasoning (optional)
1/3 cup jerk paste (click here for recipe)
½ red bell pepper, chopped
1 very petite zucchini, chopped
1 small broccoli floret broken up by hand
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced or mandolined
½ cup purple cabbage, chopped
2 stalks celery chopped
1 serving Incredible Jerk Tofu (click here for recipe)
2 handfuls pre-cooked pasta—use only penne or spirals
The top (green) third of a medium bunch of green onions, chopped

Combine oil and garlic in food processor or blender. Puree well.

Heat a large frying pan on medium high heat. Add garlic oil mixture. Sauté until it begins to turn gold--but not brown, about 30-60 seconds. Add wine. Continue to cook for 20 more seconds.

Add soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, tomato, basil, oregano, Cajun seasoning, and jerk paste. Stir frequently for about 8 minutes. Taste and add salt or jerk, if necessary—it should be very strongly flavored!

Add all the veggies EXCEPT the green onion. Reduce heat to medium and sauté another 5 minutes or so, until the veggies become a bit tender, stirring occasionally.

Add tofu, pasta, green onions, salt and pepper to taste (salt may not be necessary if your jerk paste already has some). Sauté 1 more minute stirring often.

Remove from heat and serve.

Incredible Jerk Tofu




Anytime somebody tells you that they think tofu sucks, tell them I said they're an ass. Then make this. It'll shut them up for good.

Note that this preparation tends to make a bit of a mess out of your frying pan. I highly recommend that you use a well-seasoned cast-iron frying pan for this recipe, as the clean-up is immeasurably easier.

This is also a fantastic way to prepare tofu for any cuisine, just change the spices from jerk to whatever is appropriate to fit your cuisine.

Prep time: 1 cocktail

1 pinch dried oregano
1 pinch dried basil
3 TBSP jerk paste (click here for recipe)
1 tsp Cajun seasoning
1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
1-2 TBSP soy sauce
1/3 cup red wine
½ cup orange juice or pineapple juice
3 TBSP peanut or non-toasted sesame oil
1 brick extra firm tofu, cut into 1” cubes
2 TBSP sesame seeds

In small bowl, whisk together oregano, basil, jerk paste, Cajun seasoning, Worcestershire, soy sauce, red wine, and juice. Set aside.

Heat oil in an 8- to 10-inch frying pan over medium-high heat. When it gets hot, add tofu. Stir very gently and very frequently with spatula being careful to avoid breaking the tofu (it can be tricky to keep your tofu intact depending on brand and moisture content, this is why using extra firm is critical). Fry until the tofu begins to become golden brown. This can take from 10-20 minutes, depending on the moisture content of the tofu. If your tofu is sticking to the bottom of the pan, add a bit more oil and be sure you're flipping it around every few seconds with the spatula.

Once tofu is golden-brown, add wine/juice mixture. Bump your heat up one notch and occasionally stir everything. Cook until all the moisture has cooked off, about 5-10 minutes. Toss in the sesame seeds and then transfer the tofu to a plate. Place in refrigerator and allow to cool completely before eating or using in another recipe.

Jerk Paste


Jerk is one of the cornerstones of Jamaican cuisine. It is either a paste or a dry rub of brown spices, garlic, peppers, ginger, and thyme that dates back to colonial times. It combines the flavors of the old world and the new in a fantastic, unusual way. Jerk was used as a means of preserving meat in the days before refrigeration—much the way that very spicy rubs or salts have been used in other parts of the world. As such, it is pretty potent stuff (spice wimps should probably be cautious with my Jerk recipes). Today, jerk is ideal either as a marinade (especially good for grilling tofu, vegetables, meat, and fruit) or as a sauce. Jerk is one of those things that can be made a thousand different ways. This is my recipe.


Also note that if you wish to save time, there are commercially-available jerk pastes that work well for my recipes as well. I most highly recommend Neera’s; it’s long been my favorite. You can find it in a small jar in the condiment aisle of many gourmet and natural food stores, as well as online. But one word of caution: if you go with a store-bought paste in any of my recipes, be warned that these are often more potent than my recipe. As a result, it is probably a good idea to start with about a third of what my recipes call for and add additional jerk slowly, tasting as you go, in order to avoid overdoing it. And because these pastes often contain varying amounts of salt, the same is true for salt in my recipes that use jerk paste.

1 TBSP ground allspice
¾ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1.5 tsp ground clove
3 TBSP vegetable oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 Habenero or Scotch Bonnet chilies (heat wimps can use 2 peppers)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 TBSP dried thyme
2 teaspoons salt
1-2 TBSP fresh ginger
5 scallions, chopped
1 TBSP brown sugar
3 TBSP fresh lime juice
¼ cup white vinegar

In small dish, combine allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves.

Heat oil in a small frying pan on medium. Add the garlic and sauté, stirring constantly, until the garlic just begins to turn light golden—about 1 minute. Add spice combination. Stir constantly another 20 seconds and remove from heat. Transfer immediately to a bowl.

Now combine all other ingredients, along with the spice/garlic mixture, in a food processor or blender. Process until it is a smooth liquid.

Stores in the refrigerator for months.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sweet and Spicy Indonesian Tempeh and Noodles


I made this last night for a dinner party here at the Lazy S Ranch. It pleased vegans, meat eaters, spice lovers, and spice haters alike. And prep time was less than an hour.

This recipe calls for keycap manis—a type of sweetened soy sauce used extensively in Indonesian cooking. Keycap is available at any Asian grocer and is well worth having on hand—it is absolutely my favorite all-purpose condiment.

Like many other recipes I've posted, feel free to add anything you think would sound good. I’ve added bean sprouts and cilantro to the finished product, stirred all-natural peanut butter into the sauce, and even served this dish with a fried egg on top. Yum!

Prep time: 2 cocktails

1/3 cup keycap manis
3 TBSP Siracha
1 TBSP brown rice vinegar
2 TBSP Braggs or tamari
2 TBSP water
1/3 tsp white pepper
¼ cup peanut oil
8 ounce-package tempeh, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1.5-inch piece ginger, minced
¼ cup shallot, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large handfuls precooked and chilled noodles (rice noodles or vermicelli)
1 big handful chopped veggies (broccoli, carrot, bell pepper, and cabbage all work well)
2 scallions, green parts only, chopped into wheels

First, lightly steam or sauté the veggies. Don’t overdo it; they should still have a bit of crispness, as you'll cook them again more in a minute. Set aside.

Now prep the sauce by combining keycap manis, Siracha, vinegar, Braggs, water, and white pepper in a small bowl. Whisk well and set aside.

In a wok or large frying pan, heat the peanut oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add tempeh and sauté until it turns golden brown, stirring occasionally. Add ginger, shallot, and garlic. Reduce to medium heat and continue to sauté a couple minutes, stirring often.

Now stir in sauce, vegetables, and noodles. Continue to cook, stirring very frequently until the sauce gets all bubbly and the veggies and pasta are nice and hot. If necessary, adjust keycap manis, soy sauce, vinegar and/or Siracha so you get a nice salty/sweet/spicy/tangy balance. Serve with a sprinkle of scallion on top.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Banh Mi: Imperialism never tasted so good!




Banh Mi is one of the happiest things to ever come out of the colonial era. Banh Mi is a very popular sandwich in Vietnam, but is heavy with French influences—most notably baguette, mayonnaise and pate (I use marinated, roasted portabellas). The Vietnamese components include pickled carrot and daikon, cilantro, and hot peppers.

One critical consideration is to use really good bread. A couple real nice crusty 8-inch baguettes (cut into 4-inch sections) are great, as are four high-quality French rolls. Whole grain is a great choice, but white is also delicious. You can toast the bread right before you use it or go untoasted. In Vietnam, they actually use a rice baguette, but I find making these from scratch a real hassle.

Finally, it is important that you use real mayonnaise for this dish. Homemade is ideal, and only takes a minute to prepare. Store bought mayo will make an acceptable substitute, though. No lite mayo, Miracle Whip of other bullshit allowed on this sandwich. Seriously.

Prep time: 1 cocktail (not including marinating time)

1/3 cup white vinegar
¼ cup white sugar
2 cups carrot, daikon radish, or a combination of the two, julienned
2 TBSP peanut or olive oil
3 TBSP rice vinegar
3 TBSP brown sugar
2 TBSP Braggs or tamari (plus additional for topping)
3 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lime
1 TBSP Siracha
2 whole portabella mushroom caps
Baguette bread or 4 French rolls
Mayonnaise (recipe for homemade mayo is here)
Sliced cucumber
1 medium jalapeño, chopped into thin wheels
Leaves from ½ bunch cilantro

Combine the white vinegar, white sugar, and a half cup of hot water in a small mixing bowl and whisk until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add carrots and daikon and set aside to infuse at least 1 hour (overnight is ideal). This will create a delicious pickled carrot/daikon mixture.

In another small mixing bowl, combine peanut oil, rice vinegar, brown sugar, Braggs, garlic, lime juice, and Siracha. Whisk well. Now poke a few holes in the top of each portabella cap and place the mushrooms along with this marinade into a Zip-Lock bag. Gently shake up the contents to ensure the portabellas get thorough marinated. Let stand for at least an hour, though overnight is ideal.

Preheat oven to 400. Bake the mushrooms directly on the oven rack until they become tender, juicy, and cooked through—about 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

Now it’s time to build the sandwiches. Cut your bread lengthwise, but not all the way through (you want a hot dog bun-style piece of bread). Smear a generous amount of mayo on the sides, then load it up with strips of mushroom, drained pickled carrot/daikon, cucumber, jalapeño, and cilantro leaves. Finish it off with a few extra drops of Braggs and ENJOY!

Homemade mayonnaise

Stop buying store-bought mayo! This stuff is super easy to make and is wayyyy better! And feel free to add whatever you like to this recipe to make it fit the cuisine for which you’re preparing. A touch of jerk seasoning and pineapple juice is great for Caribbean foods, while chipotle peppers and a dash of lime would make a great fit for Mexican cuisine. The possibilities are endless!

1 egg yolk
2 tsp dijon (or 1/2 tsp mustard powder and 2 tsp water)
Pich of sugar
½ tsp salt
1 cup canola oil
1 TBSP lemon juice

Combine yolk, mustard, sugar, and salt in a mixing bowl or food processor (if your food processor is large like mine, an immersion blender with a narrow cup works better). Whisk well. Very slowly, add the oil a few drops at a time, as you whisk vigorously (or keep food processor running). Once the emulsion begins to thicken a bit, increase rate at which you add the oil to a very, very light stream. Continue to whisk or keep food processor on while you do this. Once all the oil is incorporated, add in the lemon juice and serve. Stores a couple weeks in the fridge.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Muy Tasty Burrito Beans

These are a great all-purpose beans that are great in burritos, enchiladas, tamales, or as a side dish. You can use either black or pinto beans. I prefer pinto.

1 pound beans
4 tsp salt
5 tsp chili powder
3 tsp cumin
2 tsp garlic powder (not garlic salt)
2 tsp black pepper
2 TBSP vegetable oil

Do not presoak the beans. Combine all ingredients with water in a pot and bring to boil. Reduce to a simmer until beans are soft. Keep beans just covered with water all throughout the cooking time. Once beans are done, you can cook off any excess liquid to achieve the level of soupiness you like.

If you have a pressure cooker, you can make these a lot faster. Just follow your instruction manual.

PUPUSAS!



Salvadorians confuse me. With a national dish this good, I find it baffling that anybody from El Salvador would immigrate to America. Without pupusas a few times a week, I fail to see how this country could offer a "better life." In fact, someday I might become one of the first Americans to illegally migrate into Latin America. Mainly just so I could eat pupusas.

So what the hell is a pupusa? It's basically just a stuffed tortillia. Pupusas can be stuffed with anything from cow tongue to fiddlehead fern leaves. Here, I go with beans—a much easier ingredient to come by!

Pupusas are served with curtido, a type of coleslaw/relish and a simple red salsa (salsa rojo). (You can click through for those recipes.)

This recipe makes about 10 pupusas. Generally speaking, two of them—along with salsa rojo and curtido—make a pretty satisfying meal. If you don’t want that many at once, you can store fully-formed, uncooked pupusas in the refrigerator for several days. Store them in an airtight container and separate them with wax paper. Then cook as directed below.

Masa is a type of corn flour. It’s what tamales are made with. It can be found in any Mexican grocery or in the Mexican section of just about any supermarket. Don’t try to use cornmeal or regular flour in place of masa. They are totally different.

Traditionally pupusas are made with a special farmers cheese that can be a bit tough to find in the states. The closest alternative I've found is a combination of Jack and whipped cream cheese.

Prep time (for Pupusas, curtido, and salsa rojo combined) is 3-4 cocktails

4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated
4 ounces whipped cream cheese (don’t use nonfat!)
3 scallions, chopped finely
3 cups masa
1 tsp salt
¼ cup canola or corn oil
2 1/4 cups water
3/4 Cup prepared “Muy Tasty Burrito Beans” (click here for recipe)
Several additional TBSP oil for cooking

Stir cheeses and scallions together in a mixing bowl. Set aside.

Combine masa, salt, oil, and water in another mixing bowl. Mix well with an electric mixer or by hand.

Creating each pupusa is more an art than a science. I’ll describe as best I can, but it’s really a trial-and-error sort of thing. Eventually you’ll find a system that works best for you. Here’s what I do:

Roll masa dough into balls halfway between the size of a golf ball and baseball—about 2 inches in diameter. With your thumbs, slowly push in to create a recessed divot in the center of the ball. Keep going until you have a bowl-shaped masa “container” with 1/2-inch thick walls.

Add about two parts cheese mixture with one part beans. Fill each masa cup almost to full. Seal the top shut like a calzone. Now gently press the whole thing between your palms until it flattens out, about 3/4 of an inch thick and perhaps 4-5” in diameter. The walls of the pupusa should be as thin as possible without actually having any holes.

You can also use a tortilla press or rolling pin for this task (using waxed paper as a non-stick buffer can help if you use these items).

Just be gentile. DON’T create any rips or tears in the dough.

Once you've formed your pupusas, warm a frying pan with a couple tablespoons of oil over medium to medium-high heat. Fry each pupusa until it begins to brown a bit on the bottom. About 2-3 minutes per side.

Flip and repeat. Add more oil as needed.

After removing from heat, let the pupusas cool for just a minute on a paper towel or clean kitchen rag to let the excess oil drain off.

Serve hot with the salsa rojo and curdito mentioned above.

Curtido


Curtido, along with Salsa Rojo, is the critical companion to Pupusas--the national dish of El Slavador. However, this slaw-like salad is also good when you want to bring something a bit unusual to your next barbecue. You can thank me later.

½ large head of cabbage, chopped
2 carrots, grated with cheese grater
1 qt boiling water
3 scallions, chopped
2/3 cup white vinegar
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped finely
½ tsp salt
Red pepper flakes (to taste)
½ cup packed cup fresh oregano leaves, minced --or-- 1 heaping TBSP dried oregano
1 TBSP canola oil

Put cabbage in a large bowl. Add boiling water. Let sit 10 minutes. Drain water.

Toss cabbage with all other ingredients in large bowl. Put in the fridge and let cool. Best if you let it sit overnight.

Serve cold as a side to pupusas.

Salsa Rojo




This is a perfect accompaniment for tamales, eggs, or as a "restaurant style" salsa for chips. But it is at its best when served as an accompaniment for pupusas--the national dish of El Salvador (click here for recipe).

A couple quick notes: You can adjust the hotness by adding or subtracting hot peppers. Also, if you don’t use completely ripe tomatoes, the salsa will have a sour flavor. I recommend you use only very ripe, sweet tomatoes if you wish to avoid this.

4-6 Serrano chilies, stems removed (or equivalent jalapeños, cayenne or other hot peppers—use a couple habeneros if you want really hot salsa)
6 vine-ripened tomatoes, stemmed and quartered
¼ large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 veggie bouillon cube
1 tsp salt
2 TBSP canola oil (optional)

Combine all ingredients in food processor or blender. Puree until fairly smooth, but still has a bit of chunky texture to it.

Put salsa in saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce to medium-low. Simmer uncovered until you reach consistency of a fairly thin (but not watery) salsa, stirring frequently. Depending on the juiciness of your tomatoes, this can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. 45 minutesr is about the average for store-bough tomatoes (and if you have really meaty garden tomatoes, you might have actually have to add a bit of water).

Remove from heat. Chill before serving.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Berbere




Berbere is a spice mixture that is the essential backbone of a huge number of Ethiopian and East African dishes. Hunting down one or two of the spices might be a bit tricky (go online or to an African market if you can’t find them), but once you round everything up, you’ll be happy you did.

Also, berbere requires either an electric spice grinder/coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle. Once again, you’ll have to spend a few bucks if you don’t already have these items, but you’ll be very glad you did. Pre-ground spices just make an inferior product.

This recipe also calls for cinnamon chips, not ground cinnamon or cinnamon sticks. You can find them at a lot of gourmet or natural food stores. If not, just chop an equivalent amount of cinnamon stick.

The ground chili powder in this recipe is special. Don’t use common Mexican-style chili powder found in the grocery store, also don’t use something like chipotle; both have the wrong flavor. Instead choose dried serranos, anchos (though these are mild, so you’ll want to add some more cayenne), or another chili type or combination that doesn’t taste too much like Texas-style chili.

½ tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1/3 tsp cinnamon chips
¼ tsp whole cloves
1 tsp whole cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds
1/8 tsp whole mustard seeds
½ cup paprika (that’s right, ½ cup!)
1/3 cup ground chili powder
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp ginger powder
1 TBSP cayenne
2 TBSP salt
1 tsp ground nutmeg

Combine all the whole spices (first 7 ingredients) in a small bowl and mix well. Over medium-low to medium heat, warm a dry frying pan up. When the pan is totally warmed, add the whole spices. Dry fry the spices, stirring constantly, until they’re nicely toasted but not burned, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Grind finely. Add in all remaining ingredients and stir well. If you like your food to take on a smokier flavor, you can dry fry the finished product a few more minutes. But I like it just as it is. Berbere will keep in a dark, cool, dry place for a number of months.

Nuoc Cham




This is a great all-purpose dipping sauce for Vietnamese or Thai dishes, grilled vegetables, or as a marinade. If you can't find fish sauce in the Asian section of your grocery store, it is available at any Asian market. If you don't eat fish, you can substitute soy sauce.

¼ cup hot water
2 TBSP sugar
2 TBSP fish sauce
2-3 TBSP lime juice
3 Thai chilies, sliced as thinly as possible
2 cloves garlic, minced

In a bowl, whisk together water and sugar until sugar is completely dissolved. Let sit at room temperature a couple minutes. Whisk in all remaining ingredients. Allow to sit and flavors to mingle at least 10 minutes before using.

My New Favorite Recipe: Tom Yum Fish Tacos


This is the only dish I've made that I think actually gives Red-Red a run for its money as my favorite food of all time. Really.

While I'm not generally a huge fan of fusion foods, I've been fascinated for some time with combining Mexican and South Asian cuisines. Something about the shared elements of chilies, lime, cilantro, and fresh veggies really appeals to me.

The Tom Yum paste and fish sauce I call for here can be purchased at any Asian market.

Prep time: 2 cocktails (about 1 hour)

Fish:
3 TBSP tom yum paste
Juice of 1 lime
1 TBSP brown sugar
1 pound tilapia or catfish fillet
2-3 TBSP oil

Slaw:
Double batch Nuoc Cham (click here for recipe)
2-3 cups cabbage, shredded
¾ bunch cilantro, minced
¾ bunch green onion, chopped
1 tomato, chopped

Spicy Thai Mayonnaise:
1 egg
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 TBSP Siracha paste
1 TBSP Tom Yum paste
1 TBSP lime juice
A few grinds black pepper
1 cup peanut oil

Extras:
16 corn tortillas, store-bought or homemade, DON'T USE FLOUR TORTILLAS
2 avocados, sliced
A couple handfuls of peanuts

Start by seasoning the fish: whisk together the 3 TBSP Tom Yum paste, juice of 1 lime, and brown sugar. Rub the paste into the fish and place in refrigerator.

Start the slaw by making the Nuoc Cham. As it cools, chop all the slaw veggies. Toss the veggies and sauce in a bowl and set aside.

Now make the mayonnaise by combining all the mayo ingredients, except the peanut oil in a food processor (you can also use a mixing bowl and whisk). Pulse until everything is well-mixed. With the food processor on, VERY SLOWLY add the cup of peanut oil in a drizzle. You want to take about a full minute to add the cup of peanut oil. Adjust taste, if necessary, and set aside.

Heat a medium to large frying pan over medium heat and add a couple TBSP oil. Add fish and fry until it’s cooked through, flipping halfway through. Once it is almost done, begin shredding the fish by using the edge of a metal or plastic spatula. Once fish is fully cooked, remove from heat and transfer to a plate or bowl.

Now build your tacos! Spread a big dollop of mayo on the bottom of a tortilla (the tortilla can be raw, flash fried, or grilled). Then scoop a few tablespoons of the fish and slaw into each taco. Finish with a couple slivers of avocado and a sprinkle of peanuts. Enjoy!

Marinated Artichoke Hearts

This is a fabulous and easy marinade that will make artichokes better for virtually any application. This makes artichokes especially good on pizza, in salads, or tossed in pasta with pesto. If you don’t have the time or ingredients, don’t sweat it, no recipe will be ruined by failing to us these artichokes, but it certainly enhances most recipes.

1 can artichoke hearts
3 TBSP olive oil
1.5 TBSP red wine vinegar (can also use 1 Tbsp balsamic if red wine is not available)
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp red chili flakes
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
½ tsp garlic powder
Pinch of thyme and rosemary (both are optional)

When you open the can of artichokes, drain them and mash each one up a bit with your hands, so they aren’t an entire mouth full.

Combine all ingredients in a Tupperware container with a good, solid-fitting lid and stir everything together. Then cover with lid and shake everything up a bit.

Let sit anywhere from 20 minutes to 1 day. A periodic shaking will help the flavors mingle better.

Marinated Portabella Mushrooms

So these mushrooms are fantastic in many ways. They’re great in pizza, tossed with fresh tomatoes and zucchini in olive oil, then added to pasta (with some brie cheese too, if you like). But my favorite is to marinate them then grill them. If you’re grilling them, they’re great sliced in shish-kabobs or as a portabella “burger”.

If you’re caught in a pinch, using Italian salad dressing instead of this marinade will do just fine for any application.

2 Portabella mushrooms, whole, poked with fork
¼ cup olive oil
2 TBSP balsamic
1 TBSP tamari or Braggs
1 TBSP chili flakes
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
A dash of OJ (optional)

Mix everything together in a Tupperware or zip lock. Stir or toss occasionally. This can marinate for 90 minutes to 24 hours.

If enjoying a burger, it is best on a bun with caramelized onion, tomato slice, romaine lettuce, and roasted red pepper remouladé.



Friday, April 9, 2010

Behold the Almighty Beet Burger


Beet burgers??? HELL YES! Of everything I've cooked over the years for my friends and family, these beet burgers are the most requested, praised, and quickly devoured. These are so damn good that I challenge any meat eater to honestly tell me they aren't delicious. If I see any such comment, I'll come to your house and eat my first real hamburger in 15 years. I'm that sure.

This is one of the few recipes that will appear on this blog that is not my own. But it is so good, I just have to share it. The recipe is adapted from a wonderful cookbook called Recipes from America’s Small Farms. It is a phenomenal book that has tons of great recipes and advice for eating locally and seasonally. I can't say enough good things about this cookbook. Buy. It. Now.

I probably don't need to tell you, but great toppings can include blue cheese crumbles, horseradish, Pickappeppa sauce, wasabi, fresh herbs, watercress, mayonnaise, heirloom tomato slices, pickled jalapeños, avocado, fake or real bacon, melted cheese, etc. Also, I've got an incredible homemade BBQ sauce recipe that I'll post soon.

Makes about 15 burgers. Prep time: 2 cocktails

½ cup sesame seeds
2 cups grated beets (roughly 2 large beets)
2 cups grated carrots (roughly 3 large carrots)
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 cup cheddar or pepper jack cheese
1 cup raw, shelled sunflower seeds
2-3 large eggs, beaten
3 TBSP flour
½ large onion, chopped fairly finely
¼ cup corn or vegetable oil
¼ cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBSP soy sauce
1 TBSP red chili flakes
Lots of ground black pepper
½ cup crumbled feta or goat cheese (chèvre) (optional)
Additional fresh herbs like basil, oregano, thyme or cilantro (optional)
1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce + 1 Tbsp additional flour (optional)
Buns and fixings

Preheat oven to 350.

Heat small, dry frying pan on medium heat. When hot, add sesame seeds. Stir almost continuously until seeds are toasted and brown, but not burned. Remove immediately and transfer to large mixing bowl.

Add all other ingredients to bowl. Mix well.

Coat a cookie sheet really well with cooking spray. Form mixture into patties of normal hamburger size and shape. Cook 25-30 minutes or until cooked through. Remove, let cool a minute, and eat like regular burgers.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Gawd Bless 'Merikan Style Pizza!



So for a while now, I've only been making traditional Neopolitan-style pizza with just a couple toppings, fresh mozzarella, and a great thin crust, all baked on a stone at high temperatures. But last night, I wanted a big, fat, overwhelming, thick crust 'Merikan style pizza. I wanted a black hole of a meal that sticks to my friggin ribs for a week. And this is what I made.

I also decided that since my dinner consisted largely of cheese, salt, and a lot of alcoholic beverages, that I should make my crust with whole wheat flour. Not only is it really, really good, but it makes this meal total health food!


100 Percent Whole Wheat Thick Crust

This is enough for one large pie. If you want to make both of the pizzas below, double the batch of dough.

3 cups whole wheat flour
1.25 cups warm water
2 TBSP white sugar (or 3 Tbsp honey or agave nectar)
1 tsp salt
1 packet yeast (2 tsp)
3 Tbsp olive oil
A generous pinch of each of the following spices: dill, thyme, basil, oregano, pepper, garlic salt, red pepper flakes (if you are missing one or two of these, don’t worry, it’ll still turn out okay).

If you’re lucky enough to have a bread maker, make the dough the easy way: combine all ingredients in bread maker using dough setting. When done, let rest 2-3 minutes.

If you don’t have a bread maker, doing it the old-fashioned way should work as well. Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix thoroughly with mixer or wooden spoon. Gradually add water and oil. Once everything is well-combined, remove from bowl and knead it very well, about 10 minutes. Return to bowl and let dough rise, covered with a damp towel, until it has doubled in size (about 45 minutes). Then punch down and knead a second time. Let rise a second time for 60 minutes then punch it down.

Using a rolling pin and a floured surface, roll the dough out so it is slightly larger than a 14” pizza dish or a rectangle that is slightly larger than your 12 x 15 cookie sheet. Place dough on floured sheet. Roll edges over and pinch down. Now you’re ready to assemble your pizza.


Mediterranean Style Pizza

Adding roasted red bell peppers is a delicious addition to this pizza.

1 batch whole wheat thick crust (recipe above)
16 ounces homemade or store-bought marinara
Double batch marinated artichoke hearts (click here for recipe)
2 handfulls sun-dried tomatoes, rehydrated (if dried), and coarsely chopped
2 handfuls of Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced in half
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 handfulls fresh basil, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
Several big pinches of dried oregano

Preheat oven to 325.

Prepare the whole wheat thick crust as directed above. Add sauce in an even layer, then ADD TOPPINGS BEFORE MOZERALLA. Start with the largest toppings (the artichoke hearts) on bottom and work up to the smallest (garlic). Don’t add the oregano yet.

Top with mozzarella. Sprinkle oregano liberally on top of everything.

This is a thicker-than normal pizza, it’ll take a while to cook—typically around a half hour. When the cheese near the outside begins to brown slightly, switch to broil. Cook the pizza another 30-60 seconds and remove. It needs to sit for a good 2-3 minutes before you can slice and serve.


Jumping Jesus, This Smoked Gouda Pizza Is Amazing

This is among my favorite pizzas. In addition to the normal topping list, I have a few favorite additions. All these are totally optional:
  • 2 marinated portabellas, cut into 1/2”-wide strips (click here for recipe)
  • Additional fresh herbs
  • Drizzle of top-quality, aged balsamic vinegar
  • A cup or so of whole arugula leaves

Here’s what’s in the pizza itself:

1 batch whole wheat thick crust (recipe above)
2 large onions, sliced into thin rings and caramelized (directions below)
16 ounces homemade or store-bought marinara
2 medium heirloom tomatoes, halved then sliced thinly
¼-½ cup pine nuts or slivered almonds
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces high-quality smoked Gouda
Several pinches dried oregano.

Preheat oven to 325.

Once you have about 45 minutes to go on the pizza, you’ll want to start caramelizing your onions. Place a dry frying pan and heat it over medium-low to medium heat. Add the sliced onions and nothing else. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions turn a nice golden brown, and are very sweet, about 40 minutes.

Prepare the whole wheat thick crust as directed above. Add sauce in an even layer, then ADD TOPPINGS BEFORE MOZERALLA. Start with the largest toppings (the portabellas, if using) on bottom and work up to the smallest (garlic). Don’t add the oregano yet.

Top with mozzarella. Sprinkle oregano liberally on top of everything.

This is a thicker-than normal pizza, it’ll take a while to cook—typically around a half hour. When the cheese near the outside begins to brown slightly, switch to broil. Cook the pizza another 30-60 seconds and remove. It needs to sit for a good 2-3 minutes before you can slice and serve.




Monday, April 5, 2010

Zigni Style Spaghetti


The Italians tried their damnedest to colonize Ethiopia and Eritrea in the 1930s. In the end, the Ethiopians repelled the Italians, making it the only African country to escape colonial rule. But one place where the Italians left a lasting legacy was in the food. Zigni--widely regarded as the national dish of Eritrea--is basically pasta (or injera) and marinara seasoned with the local spices.

This is much less a production than many other Ethiopian recipes. Once you have berbere on hand, it is very easy to prepare this dish. In addition to tempeh, other suitable meat alternatives include TVP or fake ground beef crumbles.

Also, instead of spaghetti, this can also be served over cubed, roasted potatoes and/or over injeera.

Prep time: 1 cocktail (30 minutes)

4 TBSP olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ pounds tomatoes, chopped
1 TBSP + 1 tsp berbere (click here for recipe)
1 ½ tsp sea salt
Two dozen or more good grinds of black pepper
½ tsp cayenne
Juice of 1 medium lemon
6-8 ounces dry spaghetti (I prefer whole wheat)
8 ounce package tempeh, crumbled
Fresh-grated, high quality Parmesan cheese

Heat a pot or Dutch oven with 2 TBSP oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until onion begins to turn transparent, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and sauté another 2 minutes.

Then add tomatoes, berbere, salt, pepper, cayenne, and lemon juice. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring frequently until sauce reaches the consistency of a marinara sauce—about 15 minutes (but can vary significantly, depending on the moisture content of the tomatoes).

Once you get the sauce simmering, cook the spaghetti. And as you cook the spaghetti and simmer the sauce, you can also sauté the tempeh. Start by heating the remaining two TBSP oil in a frying pan or wok over medium-high heat. Add the crumbled tempeh and stir frequently until it turns a nice golden brown. Remove tempeh from heat and set aside.

When the sauce is ready, stir in the tempeh and simmer another minute or two. Remove from heat and serve the sauce over the pasta (or potatoes). Top with parmesan.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Fried Forbidden Black Rice


Hawt Damn, this is good. Probably my favorite fried rice recipe, in fact. This goes great with Mapo Doufu, as the mild umami notes in the rice complement the fiery tofu quite well.

I’ve discovered fried rice is best if you are using cold rice, as it tends to clump less. So if possible, make the rice a few hours ahead of time and chill it (or use leftover rice). And you don’t have to stick with broccoli, cabbage, and carrots. You can use any veggies you like: eggplant, peas, bell peppers, sprouts, bok choi, spinach, mushrooms, water chestnuts, and just about anything else you want to throw in there is fine. Just remember to wait until you are almost done cooking before you add the tender veggies, like sprouts. Tofu, shrimp, or meat can also be added. And finally, you can use any type of rice--I just really love Forbidden Black.

Prep time: 3/4 cocktail (about 20 minutes)

3 TBSP soy sauce
3 TBSP oyster sauce
1 TBSP rice vinegar
2 tsp sugar
1 TBSP Siracha (optional)
6 TBSP peanut oil, divided
½ of a medium red onion, sliced into thin slivers
1 small floret broccoli, broken or cut up
2-inch piece of ginger, grated
5 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 carrots, cut into matchsticks
1 cup of cabbage, shredded
2-3 eggs, beaten
2 cups prepared, chilled rice (Forbidden Black, or any other type)
1 big dash of white pepper or ground Szechuan peppercorns, if available
4 green onions, chopped

In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, oyster sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and Siracha. Set aside.

Put a wok over high heat and add 2 TBSP of peanut oil. When it gets hot (but before it starts smoking), add red onion and broccoli and sauté for a 30 seconds. Add ginger and garlic and stir fry for 30 more seconds. Add carrot and cabbage and sauté for another minute or two until the cabbage is a bit tender but not mushy. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl.

Return the wok to the stovetop and add 2 more TBSP peanut oil. When hot, add egg and scramble the hell out of the egg—you don’t want any very big pieces remaining. When egg is cooked (BUT NOT DRIED OUT!) remove and transfer to a second bowl.

Now return the wok to the heat and add remaining 2 TBSP of oil. When hot, add the rice. Break up any clumpiness in the rice as you stir fry it. Now comes the critical part—once it’s all hot and broken up, you want to stop stirring the rice for a minute or two, so that the grains on the bottom become a bit crisped (if you want very fried rice, you can stir it up and let it cook like this a second time). Add the pepper and scallions and stir fry it all for 15 more seconds.

Now toss in the veggie mixture and egg mixture, as well as the soy sauce mixture. Stir fry everything for a few more seconds, remove, and let sit a minute before serving.

First Recipe: Mapo Doufu



Mapo Doufu translates to "Pockmarked Old Woman’s Tofu." This dish’s roots supposedly go back centuries to the Chinese city of Chengdu in Szechuan, where an old, disfigured widow was ostracized to the outskirts of town. Because they couldn’t afford to stay in the town while they waited for their goods to sell, many poor farmers and traders also found themselves staying on the outskirts of town. By happy coincidence, the story goes, the farmers and traders eventually found the old woman and her amazing cooking. She soon became the pride of the city and her tofu is still the local favorite. Or something. All I know is this shit is delicious. Had it last night with the fried rice recipe (see today's other blog post).

If you've ever had Mapo Doufu, at a Chinese restaurant, this might be different than what you've eaten. I try to make this dish as authentically as possible—it won’t resemble the nasty, thick, sweet-and-sour Mapo Doufu that you sometimes see at restaurants in the US. Instead, this recipe is fiery, nuanced, complex, and very delicious.

Note that Szechuan Peppercorns are not related to black peppercorns. And because they add a very important smoothing element to the dish, you cannot substitute anything for it. But fret not! The pepper—along with any of the other exotic-sounding ingredients below—can be purchased at any Asian grocer.

Serve this with fried rice, plain rice, or steamed fish.

Prep time: 1 cocktail (30 minutes)

½ tsp freshly toasted and ground Szechuan peppercorn (instructions below)
2 TBSP peanut, untoasted sesame, or chili oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2” piece of ginger, grated
2-3 TBSP spicy Sichuan chili bean paste
1-2 TBSP red chili flakes (or 2 tsp Szechuan chili powder, if you can find it)
2 tsp soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine
1 cup water
3 TBSP white sugar
1 block soft tofu, cut into ¾” cubes and gently patted dry
4 scallions, sliced
2 TBSP cornstarch whisked into 2 TBSP water

Heat a small, dry frying pan on medium heat. Add 1 TBSP peppercorns and toast, stirring constantly, until they are nice and toasted, but not burned--about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and grind in an electric coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Measure out ½ tsp and set aside. Discard (or save for later) the remainder.

Heat wok on medium high heat. Add oil and let it get hot. Add garlic, ginger, and chili bean paste. Sauté for 60 seconds. Add all other ingredients, except last three and the peppercorns. Stir well, bring to a boil, then reduce to medium and simmer for a couple minutes. Now taste and adjust flavorings, if anything is out of balance.

Once you’ve adjusted the flavoring, gently stir in the tofu, bring heat up a notch, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring infrequently. Add the scallions, peppercorns, and cornstarch mixture and gently stir everything together. Serve hot.

Just what the world needs...

...is another food blog.

Right?

Well, I aim to make this one a little different.

I can honestly say that I've waded through thousands of food blogs and cookbooks over the years but have yet to find any single resource that stands out as truly remarkable.

So what makes a food blog remarkable?

Flavorful, bold, unapologetic, exotic, healthful, and interesting vegetarian food from all corners of the world. That's what.

The internet and the cookbook shelves of the local bookstore are flush with recipes that rely on tired ingredients and unimaginative combinations. And most vegetarian cookbooks and bloggers lack balls altogether. I'm going to have a brain hemorrhage next time I open a vegetarian cookbook to a recipe for something like "organic millet rolls with parsley and sea salt." Since when does being a vegetarian mean that we leave flavor and creativity at the door? And since when does the vegetarian diet have to consist only of fiber and soy? Fuck that. I intend to rock out with some spice, a little grease, and a shitload of creativity!

Furthermore, international is more than Mexican and Italian cooking. It's rare that you pick up a so-called "international" cookbook that contains anything of interest from huge swaths of the globe. I can't say I've seen many cookbooks with recipes from Afghanistan, Ghana, or El Salvador, despite the fact that these--and virtually all other regions--have rich culinary traditions that are well worth exploring.

So here it is: my attempt at a food blog. It is largely vegetarian (for now), and hopefully full of new ideas and flavors that will inspire you to crank up some music, pour a giant cocktail, and get down to business in the kitchen.

Let me know what you think!