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Archive for the ‘vegetarian’ Category

When it gets warm — hot enough so that my blood vessels dilate instantly as I step outside (nice weather does come to San Francisco once in awhile) — all I want to do is curl up in a shady spot, and hope for a cool breeze to pass through. If I spend enough time in the heat, my appetite goes out the window (as does my desire to cook in a stifling kitchen). All of a sudden, I can’t stand to think of the foods that I love so much. What shall we have for dinner tonight? Chinese? Bleh. Grilled sausages and fries? Bleh!

On one of these hot summer nights, J suggested making our own Vietnamese summer rolls. We gathered up some boiled shrimp, lettuce, sprouts, cilantro, thai basil, mint, vermicelli, and tapioca starch wrappers, and wrapped up our summer rolls at the table as we ate, dipping them in lime juice/fish sauce and peanut sauce. It was marvelous.

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Another night, we had watermelon salad. Cubed watermelon with tomatoes and avocado, tossed together in lime dressing. An amazing balance of sweetness and acid. We had this with a sliced baguette on the side, and it was the ideal summer supper in all ways imaginable — refreshing, light, and filling.

Watermelon Salad
Makes 2 big portions, or enough for 4 smaller servings
Adapted loosely from here

2 large tomatoes, mostly deseeded and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
2 cups 3/4-inch-cubed watermelon flesh
1 Hass avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
3 large fresh basil leaves, cut into small ribbons
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 serrano chili, finely diced
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper

Prepare watermelon and tomatoes, combining them in a large bowl. Place cut avocado in a smaller bowl. Add to the avocado juice from 1/2 lime, and using your fingers, toss around gently.

In another small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, remaining lime juice, basil, salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the tomato and watermelon and toss to coat evenly. Allow mixture to chill and marinate for 20 minutes.

Before serving, add the cubed avocado (along with the lime juice). Toss gently to mix, and drain excess liquid if you wish. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking.

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Some English shelling peas arrested my attention at the farmers’ market the other day, and I knew that I had bring some home with me. Sweet, sweet peas! They’re good to eat raw, and they’re good to eat cooked. They’re also fun to shell. You pop open their pods, and with a swift rake of your fingers, the cutest balls in the perfect shade of chartreuse come plummeting down into the catching bowl.

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pea family!

I wanted to use the peas in a risotto, so I bought several artichokes to go along with the peas. Artichokes would impart an earthy flavor to contrast the sweetness of the peas, and also add texture to the risotto. Unlike the peas, artichokes are not much fun to prepare. You end up hacking away at most of the artichoke, saving only the heart and few tender parts of the leaves and stem, but all the effort involved is worth it in the end.

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We ate this risotto with broiled wild salmon marinated in lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. The risotto was delicate, bright, and so pleasing that I heaped seconds onto my plate.

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Pea and Artichoke Risotto
Serves 4 as a main dish

1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion or 1/2 large onion, chopped
1-1/2 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 cups water, boiled in a pot and kept at a simmer
4 smallish to medium-sized trimmed artichokes, cut into bite-size pieces (on how to trim artichokes, see here)
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 large cup shelled peas (equal to about a pound of unshelled peas)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a separate pot, boil 6 cups of water and bring to a low simmer. In a larger pot or deep pan, heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. When butter has completely melted, throw in the minced garlic. After garlic sizzles for a short time, add the chopped onion and cook until translucent. The onion and garlic should be shimmering in oil at this point, but if not, you can add a little more olive oil. Add the prepared artichokes and cook for about 5 minutes. (Season with a little bit of salt and pepper if you wish.) Stir in the rice, and cook for one minute before adding the white wine. While stirring, continue cooking the rice until the wine has evaporated. Ladle 1-1/2 simmering water into pot, cooking risotto until liquid is absorbed. Add more water, one cup at a time, each time after the liquid has been absorbed. Remember also to add lemon zest. Stir often while doing this, and cook until rice is just tender and the risotto is creamy. This should take around 20 minutes. In pot with simmering water, add enough water to cook the peas in, and bring to a boil. Add peas and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes and drain before adding to risotto. Stir in grated Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

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We went to Pizzeria Delfina a little while ago, and were instantly smitten with their pizza. With the help of a friend, we polished off two pizzas (although I probably could have finished an entire one on my own), in addition to a couple of appetizers. Imagine my surprise when, the day after our visit, I flipped open Sunset Magazine while at the gym (their reading selection was greatly limited to beauty and golf that day) and spied a recipe for their Broccoli Rabe pizza. While we didn’t try this pizza at the restaurant, I was still eager to follow the recipe at home. Until that moment, pedaling on a stationary bike had never been more exciting. (Am I the only one who reads about and salivates over food while working out?)

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Making the pizza was even more exciting, as this was my first stab ever at making pizza dough. Sad, but true! Sad, because pizza dough is actually very easy to make. You mix yeast with water, flour, a drop of oil and some salt. After some kneading, this forms a dough that you let rest for a short time. Then, you divide the dough, playing with and shaping the pieces into nice, round lumps. These are left to rise for four hours. That’s it. The dough is done.

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The next step is just as easy — preparing the toppings. Mix the cheeses, cream (I used milk), and buttermilk, sauté the broccoli rabe with garlic, olive oil, salt, and red pepper flakes, and tear the olives into smaller pieces. Decorate the top of the stretched out pizza dough with the broccoli rabe, cheese mixture, and olives.

“Slide” the pizza onto a 550°F-hot baking pan (see notes below) and jump up and down for ten minutes in anticipation for the pizza to brown, bubble, and sizzle.

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Now, I’m not saying that a 550° F oven comes close at all to competing with the wood-fired pizza ovens you find in restaurants. (In those ovens, pizzas are fired at 650° F – 800° F.) But there’s something about a chewy and crisp, airy crust that holds just the right amount of toppings that makes this pizza so gratifying to make at home. And if we’re ever in the mood for more blistery pizzas and the complete dining out experience, it’s nice to know that we’re just a short walk (and a long wait) away.

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Pizzeria Delfina’s Broccoli Rabe Pizza
Adapted from this recipe (as many readers before me have discovered, the original pizza dough recipe is full of errors). I also reduced the dough recipe by one-half.

Makes: 3 (12-in.) pizzas
Time: About 2 hours, plus rising time

Dough:

* 1 tsp dry active yeast dissolved in 1 cup warm water (original recipe calls for fresh yeast)
* 3/4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
* 3 cups “00” pizza flour, preferably Caputo*, or all-purpose flour (I used 00.)
* 1 ½ tsp salt
* extra water to add to dough if too dry

Topping:

* 10 oz. fresh mozzarella packed in liquid
* 1/3 cup liquid from mozzarella container
* ¼ cup shredded caciocavallo or parmesan cheese
* 1/4 cup each heavy cream (or milk) and buttermilk
* A couple pinches of salt
* 1 lb. broccoli rabe (about 1 large bunch)
* 2 garlic cloves, well smashed
* 4 tbsp olive oil
* About 1/4 tsp chili flakes (I used crushed red pepper flakes)
* Freshly ground black pepper
* 1/3 cup oil-cured black olives (soaked in water and drained if salty), pitted and torn in half
* Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

Make dough:

1. Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water (about 5 minutes). Put dissolved yeast in water and oil in a large bowl. Add flour and knead with hands for about 5-6 minutes. Add more water if dough is too dry, 1 tbsp at a time.
2. Add salt and knead for a few minutes more.
3. Cover dough in bowl with a damp towel and let dough rise 20 minutes.
4. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface and cut into 3 equal portions. Roll each into a tight ball. Place on a lightly floured tray.
5. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise at least 4 hours at warm room temperature. Dough balls have risen properly when they are soft, pillowy, and full of air. (I like to place my dough in a preheated oven. I heat up the oven at the lowest temp beforehand, and then give it some time to cool off before putting in the dough.)

Make topping:

6. With flat side of a chef’s knife, mash a third of the mozzarella into a pulverized mass. Dice remaining mozzarella into 1/2-in. cubes. In a medium bowl, mix both mozzarellas with mozzarella liquid, shredded cheese, cream, and buttermilk. Season with a pinch of salt.
7. Cut broccoli rabe into 1-in. sections, discarding tough lower stems.
8. In a large frying pan over very low heat, cook garlic in oil, stirring often, until transparent, about 5 minutes. Add chili flakes and toast for a second, then add broccoli rabe. Add a pinch of salt and several grinds of pepper.
9. Crank heat to medium-high, stirring and cooking broccoli rabe until liquid starts to evaporate and broccoli rabe is tender.

Make pizza:

10. Heat a pizza stone or baking sheet on lowest rack of oven at 550° F (or as high as oven will go), at least 30 minutes.
11. Set 1 dough ball on a well-floured pizza peel or baking sheet and stretch into a circle, 11-12 inches in diameter.
12. Spread about 2/3 cup cheese mixture over dough. Top with 1/2 cup broccoli rabe, a sprinkling of chili flakes, and 2 tbsp olives.
13. Shove pizza onto stone. (I don’t have a “shover” or a stone, which made the transfer a bit difficult. The pizzas didn’t come out the prettiest, but they were good enough for me.) Bake 5 to 6 minutes, or until puffy and browned (Mine took about 9-10 minutes). Drizzle with oil. Repeat with remaining 2 dough balls.

Make ahead: Chill dough balls overnight or freeze up to 2 weeks (let come to room temperature before stretching).

*Find at well-stocked grocery stores and Italian markets.

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What started out as a pursuit of artichokes for an attractive recipe of braised baby artichokes unexpectedly led to something else.

While thinking to myself that it was way too early for artichoke season (except perhaps in California), I insisted on replicating the recipe and tried my luck at the supermarket. I searched high and low in the produce aisles; no artichokes in sight. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a netted bag of brussels sprouts. Bearing the resemblance of mini dark green cabbages, they seemed at least appropriate in size compared to trimmed baby artichokes. Braised brussels sprouts it was.

Brussels sprouts. I have marveled at them at the supermarket and read about them, but ne’er a single brussels sprout had crossed the threshold of my lips until only a couple of weeks ago. A bane to most children and even adults in its overcooked, odiferous form, brussels sprouts seem to be a familiar offering in all-American households. In my ethnic-American upbringing, my dad loved to cook and serve the family American food on occasion (i.e. fried chicken, french fries), but he never ventured into the realm of non-Asian vegetables. Hence, my lack of familiarity with brussels sprouts. Given the stories I’ve heard of traumatic experiences with the vegetable, I’ve also been guilty of being prejudiced towards these poor brussels sprouts, and avoided trying them out for myself. That is, until now.

I loosely followed the recipe for braised baby artichokes in the March issue of Cook’s Illustrated, and in the end decided to roast the brussels sprouts instead. In this recipe, brussel sprouts are tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper in a baking dish. Water is added, and herbs tucked in, along with several slices of lemon. More lemon slices are added to the top. The dish is then roasted for twenty minutes, covered, and then for another ten minutes, uncovered.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lemon

about 30 brussels sprouts, washed and trimmed
olive oil
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 lemon, sliced
1 cup water
3 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Drizzle enough olive oil over brussels sprouts to lightly coat; season with salt and pepper and toss around in a large baking dish. Pour 1 cup water into baking dish, and tuck fresh thyme, bay leaves, and several slices of lemon underneath brussels sprouts. Scatter the rest of the lemon slices on top of the brussels sprouts. Seal baking dish with foil and place in 450 degree oven for 20 minutes. Uncover baking dish, and roast for another 10 minutes.

roasted brussel sprouts with lemon

I am happy that I finally gave brussels sprouts a chance, and I have the absence of spring artichokes to thank for putting an end to my unfounded assumptions. I can now say for myself that brussels sprouts are quite tasty roasted. Firm, yet tender. Sweet and sharp. And since they were only lightly cooked, they did not stink at all!*

*Personal communication. I have not experienced stinky brussels sprouts myself, but I hear that the longer you cook them, the more they stink.

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A meal without meat can often leave me feeling unsated. It’s not that I enjoy a caveman diet. Actually, only a relatively small portion of my meals consist of meat. (Well, maybe not when we’re talking about pork shoulders or barbeque.) Yet were that beef/pork/poultry/seafood absent from a meal, you’ll be sure to find me soon afterwards searching through the cupboards for something else to munch on. I’ve been slowly learning, though, that this doesn’t have to be the case — meat does not have to equal satisfaction. This may not be the most astounding revelation to you, but I have found that the addition of legumes or nuts (sources of protein and fat) can do wonders in giving a dish a sense of “fullness.” Come to think of it, that beans, lentils, nuts and whole grains are critical components of a healthful and nutritious vegetarian diet is nothing new to me either, but I never truly understood the concept until recently. Vegetarian dishes can be hearty, and they can be satisfying. And just plain good.

Like this dish of mushroom bundles, which made its appearance in last November’s issue of Gourmet in a vegetarian Thanksgiving menu. Neat packages of sauteed mushrooms, wrapped in collard greens. As a lover of mushrooms and pretty, tidy packages, I mentally cached away these mushroom bundles as a to-make dish.

And make them I did. They’re perfect for a dinner party because they have a sophisticated air about them, which is a bit deceiving since they’re so easy to prepare. You start by boiling the collard leaves for about six minutes, and then you run them under cold water to stop the cooking process. Then you remove the tough parts of the leaves (the stems) and lay them out to dry a bit. In the meantime, saute thick slices of mushrooms with some white wine, butter, garlic, shallots, salt, and black pepper. The recipe calls for a medley of wild mushrooms, but the only “wild” mushrooms I used were creminis, which I happen to find quite flavorful on their own. After 12 minutes, when the mushrooms are juicy and plump, and their aroma fills your kitchen, they are ready to be bundled up. After straining the mushroom juices into a baking dish, heap a large spoonful of mushrooms into the center of each leaf, and wrap into whatever shape you wish. Place the bundles into a baking dish, and let the bundles braise in a puddle of mushroom juice. This is a key step where the mushroom juices infuse the collard greens with an intense mushroom flavor. I wouldn’t skip this step if I were you.
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Yes, they are just fungus and greens. No beans, nuts or whole grains this time, but boy, were they filling. J described them as “meaty,” and I would concur. Together, the collard leaves and mushrooms made a hearty little bundle in both texture and taste. The folds of collards were nice and tender, and especially toothsome next to the fragrant mushrooms. These mushroom bundles could make an omnivore cry.

Now this doesn’t mean that I’ll be going vegetarian anytime soon. I’m only beginning to appreciate that good food does not necessarily have to contain meat. Vegetables no longer only have to be side dishes. They can be the main course.
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Mushroom Bundles (adapted from here)
I scaled up the recipe by increasing the number of collard leaves and the amount of mushrooms used.

12 large collard leaves, stems and thick portion of center ribs removed
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp minced shallot
1 tsp minced garlic
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1-1/2 pound cremini, thickly sliced

Cook collards in a large pot of boiling water with 1 tablespoon salt until just tender, 6 to 8 minutes, then drain. Transfer to a bowl of cold water, then spread leaves, undersides up, on paper towels, overlapping cut edges slightly, and pat dry.
Bring wine to a boil with shallot, garlic, 4 tablespoons butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a heavy medium saucepan. Add mushrooms and cook, covered, over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 12 minutes. Butter a 2-quart shallow baking dish, then strain mushroom juices into baking dish, reserving mushrooms.
Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in lower third.
Mound about 1/4 cup mushrooms in center of each collard leaf. Fold leaves to enclose filling and arrange bundles, seam sides down, in 1 layer in baking dish. Heat in oven until bundles are hot and juices are bubbling, about 20 minutes.

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carrot risotto

Last summer, J and I celebrated a special occasion by having dinner at Tilth, a much talked about Seattle restaurant which focuses on local, organic ingredients, and sustainability. After several friends recommended Tilth to us, we decided to give it a go. We were pretty happy with the overall experience. Everything was cooked and seasoned well, and its intimate setting was homey and lovely. While all the dishes we had were excellent, the one dish that really, I mean REALLY, swept me off my feet was the baby carrot carnaroli risotto (carnaroli is similar to arborio rice). Risotto! I know that seems a bit boring, but trust me, I have had a fair share of restaurant risottos. But none so memorable as this. After dinner that night, the nerd in me typed out all the dishes we had at Tilth into Word, just so that I wouldn’t forget the ingredients that went into each dish, especially the risotto. I have photos of the food we ate, too, but I won’t bore you with all the low-quality pictures taken in poor lighting. Okay, maybe just one.

Baby Carrot Risotto at Tilth (July 2008)

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In this risotto, the baby carrots were cooked sous vide so that their raw flavor was preserved nicely, and it had little shreds of escarole, pine nuts, and an infusion of truffle oil. My guess was that it was cooked in a broth of carrot puree and vegetable broth, as well as something that lent some acid to it. The carnaroli was also cooked well — thoroughly, but just a bit al dente.

I made it a goal of mine to reproduce this risotto, and when I finally did, I gave myself some flexibility. I had no means to cook the carrots sous vide, and I didn’t want to spend a pretty penny on truffle oil. Though truffle oil does add a lot to a dish, I was sure that the remaining ingredients would speak nicely for themselves. And so they did. The sweet carrots and buttery pinenuts partnered well with the bitter kale and lemon, creating a perfect harmony of flavors.

Of course, this version of carrot risotto did not mirror the original, but it was good. I mean, REALLY good.

Carrot Risotto with Kale and Pinenuts
serves 4-5

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp shallots, minced
1-1/2 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 quart vegetable stock
2 cups water
2 cups carrots, chopped (I used regular, not baby carrots, here)
2 cups kale, thinly slivered and roughly chopped (Again, I used kale in place of escarole.)
1 cup pinenuts, toasted
juice and zest of 1/2 large lemon
1/2 cup grated Parmesan (or use shaved parmesan to top risotto)

Bring broth and water to a simmer. In a separate pan, toast pinenuts in a bit of olive oil over medium-high heat.
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In a pot, melt butter with oil over medium heat. Add garlic and shallots and saute until tender. Add rice and stir for about a minute. Add chopped carrots and kale and cook for a minute more. Add wine and cook until liquid is absorbed. Add 1 cup of hot broth and simmer until liquid is absorbed, stirring often. Continue to cook until rice is just tender and mixture is creamy, adding more broth by cupfuls and stirring often, about 30 minutes. Stir in lemon zest and juice during this time. Take risotto off heat when rice is cooked through and there is still some liquid left. Stir in toasted pinenuts and grated Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.

carrot risotto

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stuffed acorn squash

I am recovering from the flu. After a long night of alternating chills and feverishness,  J made sure that I was well-supplied with medication, yogurt, chicken soup, and reading material before he went to work today. Snuggled up under bedcovers, with my reading material (the Thanksgiving issue of Gourmet) in hand, I am salivating at photos of roasted squash and pumpkin souffles. As my flu-starved tummy rumbles, I know that my road to recovery will be a short one.

Speaking of squash, a recent discovery of mine is the acorn squash. Available year-round, this winter squash tastes wonderful roasted. The texture and flavor of the flesh is reminiscent of the sweet potato, which I love. Its size also makes it great for stuffing, allowing for the creation of a customizable one-dish meal.

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I have to confess that the makings of the stuffing were remnants of the fridge awaiting expiration — cooked short-grained rice, red bell pepper, and asparagus. I would like to try stuffing acorn squash with earthier ingredients like mushrooms, and perhaps a nuttier-tasting grain.

stuffed acorn squash

Roasted Acorn Squash

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Split smaller-sized acorn squash in half, de-seed.

Drizzle oil on baking sheet or baking dish. Place halved squash face down onto sheet or dish. Bake for 40 minutes or longer. Allow to cool for a bit at room temperature.

Enjoy on its own, or stuffed.

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