Sunday, July 22, 2007

Rice and Cauliflower Pilaf

This post is an example of how to do it wrong but get it right. Sometimes there's an advantage to reading all the directions first and understanding how the dish is supposed to flow. But you know how it is when you're used to cooking things in a particular order - like, starting the rice first and having it cook while you prepare the rest of the meal? Not so with this dish. In the end, though, it came out tasting terrific. Let's just say I got away with it this time.

This is my first time joining in Meeta's Monthly Mingle, over at What's For Lunch Honey? This month, the mingle is called Earth Food. She was inspired by the Live Earth event earlier this month, and is asking us to post a recipe that speaks to our desire to help our earth. How can rice and cauliflower pilaf help heal the earth, you ask? Simple. It's a dish prepared from things lower down on the food chain. I won't get into the whole political argument in favor of being a vegetarian - I'm not, and I doubt if I will switch to an entirely vegetarian diet. But I have been eating more and more vegetarian food ever since I came back from India. And it's the one thing we can all do to help heal our earth. Because when you make the conscious choice to eat a vegetarian meal, you are asking less of our agricultural production. When you eat the grains, instead of eating the chicken or cow or pig that ate the grain, you are cutting out one step in the chain from plant to human. The fewer the steps, the fewer the resources needed to feed people. So yes, you as an individual can do something to help heal our earth. You needn't do it every day, but if we choose to eat a vegetarian meal twice a week, for instance, we could make a significant impact on our lovely planet. This is one of the conscious choices I make to lessen my personal impact on the environment.
OK.....Off the soapbox and onto the recipe. This one's from The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi. Last time I went to the Farmer's Market, I picked up a gorgeous cauliflower. Now, I know that most Americans aren't too keen on cauliflower. It's one of those vegetables that used to be served boiled to death back when we were kids, or it's the last one on the tray of veggies and dip, after all the carrots and broccoli are gone. So we're used to only 2 choices - tasteless and dead from boiling or raw with dip.
But if you're looking for a more interesting way to serve this incredibly healthy vegetable, turn to India, my friends. Cauliflower shows up in many recipes in Indian cuisine, and it often takes the starring role, rather than a bit part. I've never yet been disappointed by it's performance in India's fabulous culinary tradition. In her introduction to this dish, Ms. Devi states "You will be amazed at this cauliflower-rice combination, and you will find it a superb dish for entertaining." I agree. The only change I made (other than not measuring everything exactly) was to add peas at the end. I felt that the dish needed a visual "pop". Out came the frozen peas, and in they went at the last step, just before I fluffed it with a fork. Oh - and I didn't add any extra oil at the end.

For the cauliflower:

1/4C (25gm) fresh or dried grated coconut, lightly packed.
1 TBS (15ml) minced, seeded hot green chilies (or as desired)
1TBS scraped, finely shredded or minced fresh ginger root
3TBS (45ml) minced fresh parsley or coarsely chopped coriander
1/2C (120ml) plain yogurt
1/2 tsp (2ml) turmeric
1tsp (5ml) salt
1/4 tsp (1ml) freshly ground black pepper
3 TBS ghee or vegetable oil
1 small cauliflower (about 3/4 pound/340gm), washed, trimmed and cut into flowerets.

For the rice

1 C (95gm) basmati or other long-grain white rice
3TBS (45ml) ghee or a mixture of vegetable oil and unsalted butter
1 small cassia or bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp (7ml) cumin seeds
1/2 tsp (2ml) black mustard seeds
2 large black or 4 large green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
1 3/4 C (420-480ml) water
1 tsp (5ml) raw sugar
lemon or lime wedges or twists for garnishing

To cook the cauliflower

1. Combine the coconut, green chilies, ginger, parsley or corander and yogurt in a blender. (A food processor is much better!) Cover and blend until smooth. Scraper into a small bowl, add the turmeric, salt and pepper and mix.
2. Heat 3 TBS of ghee or oil in a heavy 2qt/liter saucepan over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking. Drop in the cauliflower and stir-fry for about 5 minutes or until the cauliflower has light brown edges. Pour in the yogurt mixture and stir well. Reduce the heat slightly and fry until the vegetable is dry and half-cooked.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the contents to a bowl.

To cook the rice

1. Clean the rice by placing it in a bowl and covering with water. Stir until the water becomes milky. Drain through a sieve, return the rice to the bowl and repeat until the water is clear.
2. Heat 1 1/2 TBS (22ml) of ghee or oil-butter mixture in a heavy 2qt/liter saucepan over moderate heat. Fry the cassia or bay leaf, cumin seeds, black mustard seeds and cardamom pods until the mustard seeds turn gray and sputter and pop. Pour in the rice and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes.3. Add the water and sweetener, raise the heat to high and bring the liquid to a full boil. Stir in the seasoned cauliflower, immediately reduce the heat to very low and cover tightly. Seimmer gently, without stirring, for 20-25 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the rice sit, covered, for 5 minutes to allow the grains to firm up. Just before serving, remove the cover, add the remaining 1 1/2TBD of ghee or butter-oil combination and fluff with a fork. Garnish with lemon or lime wedge or twist.A couple of notes: If you're not used to working with mustard seeds, I will tell you that when they heat up, they definitely sputter and pop. It's best to use one of those screens to cover the pan, so your mustard seeds don't leave the scene. Also, I didn't use whole cardamom pods, as I had some black cardamom seeds, which I ground in a mortar and pestle. Next time, I would just add some ground cardamom instead. I also highly recommend adding the peas at the very end. They not only add visual pop, but they're fresh, green crunch gave the dish an added texture which was delightful.

For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture.
For a place to share what natural remedies work for you and which don't, visit my other blog Second Opinion.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Grillin': Mahi Mahi and Peaches

OK....First off, I have a confession to make. I've never bought Jamaican Jerk seasoning, and I'm not certain if I've ever eaten it. It's just that sometimes it's hard for me to buy prepared mixtures. I look at the ingredients, and I usually have all of them, (I'm an herb and spice nut), so why bother buying it pre-made? Why not just "wing it", and throw the ingredients together myself? For me, it's like the difference between making a cake from scratch or buying a mix. The mixes work perfectly well, and they save time - that's why they're still around. And we all use pre-made things for convenience sake from time to time. I know that I, for one, will buy those jars of minced garlic. Admittedly, I don't get the same heady rush of those oils being released as I mince the garlic, but sometimes mama just ain't in the mood. She's tired and there's a growl coming from her stomach. At that point, bring on the convenience!

Well, it turns out that there's another benefit from using those little conveniences. You wind up with a jar containing just a little bit of "stuff" in it, and this becomes the basis for a sauce or a marinade. The all-but-empty mustard jar, the jam jar that's been scraped, but not perfectly, the pickle juice that's left after the last pickle is gone. They all cry out for imagination and perhaps some vinegar and soy sauce, shaken vigorously to capture those last bits and cleaning the jar quite thoroughly.

I went to the Farmer's market last Sunday, and came home with a luscious, thick piece of Mahi Mahi. I knew I wanted to grill it, and I also knew that I wanted to do something different than I usually do, which is to use a rub of brown sugar, cumin, chili and I don't remember what all else. I was looking for another direction. So I turned to Epicurious and found a recipe for grilled mahi mahi with avocado melon salsa. (Click here for the link to that recipe.) That recipe calls for Jamaican Jerk seasoning, and clearly it presupposes that you have this in your pantry. Not me. So I hunted for a recipe for it. There was a dish listed somewhere in Epicurious that gave ingredients for this concoction. I had them (except for one). I was set. Oh my, does this look promising!

The idea for grilling the peaches came from reading Jenn over at The Leftover Queen. She has a mouthwatering post on grilled figs, which just made me want to lick the screen! Didn't have figs. Bummer. But, I had peaches, so I wasn't out of the game after all! I mixed some olive oil and balsamic vinegar together, brushed it on the peaches, and put them on with the fish.

So here, with notes on my own slant on things, is the recipe I used:

The Seasoning

1 onion, chopped (this is the one thing I didn't have)
2/3 cup finely chopped scallion
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup minced pickled jalapeƱo pepper, or to taste (wear rubber gloves)
1 teaspoon black pepper
6 drops of Tabasco, or to taste
2 tablespoons soy sauce

The Fish

1 thick fillet of mahi mahi, or any other thick fillet, suitable for grilling
1 tablespoon olive oil

The Steps

Brush fish with 1 tablespoon oil. Spread seasoning in dish. Dredge fish in seasoning, turning to coat. Grill fish until just opaque in center, about 4 minutes per side.

So that's the way the script is written for this dish. But here's the thing: I didn't mince garlic cloves. I used the remains of what I had in the little jar, dumped the rest of the seasonings in, closed the lid and shook that jar like I was mixing paint. The other thing? Airhead here forgot that she had the grill on. No, I mean I really forgot. As in, I drove off and left the grill going. A gas grill, in fact. (I'm an Aquarian, OK? That stands for "space cadet" sometimes!) I don't know how long it was before the OMG, I LEFT THE GRILL ON! hit me, but I drove home to find that the house hadn't burned down, but the grill was definitely hot! I thought about Terry B's post over at Blue Kitchen, where he grilled chicken in hoisin sauce, and his advice to not cook it over direct heat, and to walk away after you've covered it. Wellllll........I certainly didn't need to cook anything over direct flames with a grill this hot, so I turned the gas off, slapped the fish and the peaches on and walked away.

20 minutes later, I opened the lid to find a couple of perfectly cooked peaches, and an almost perfect slab of mahi mahi. I turned the flames on again, flipped the fish, removed the peaches, lowered the lid and gave it another 2 minutes -- just enough time to get that grilled thing happening on the second side. What can I say? This dish turned out to be knee-buckling good, if I do say so myself! I still have 3 more peaches in the fridge (also from the Farmer's market), and if there's any gas left in the grill, they are going on!

Oh, and one last comment. Sometimes you've "got it", and sometimes you don't. I'm not satisfied with the photos this time, but I wasn't going to go image-less. So forgive me, dear readers. If you want to see a staggeringly good photo of a grilled fig, go visit Jenn's website. Then you'll understand my inspiration.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Bowties, broccoli and basil

These days, if it isn't being cooked on the barbecue, it's happening on the stove top. The oven is getting it's well deserved rest. Now, I know that for many people, the barbecue is a pain. I won't argue that point. It is. Especially when you've got an old gas one, and have been too lazy to get new "briquettes". And the thing is a little rusty here and there. I look longingly at those shiny stainless ones, all lined up in the store, saluting me with their open lids as I walk by. Those heavy-duty knobs and industrial strength steel grates tell me that those things mean business! But I go home to my little Sunbeam gas grill and am grateful that I have this humble machine. It gets the job done, and what more can I ask?

Well, for one, I can ask for something I can eat at room temperature, and that's made on the stove top. Especially when the weather is hot enough that even the gas grill seems too much. And when it comes to cookin' on top, I seem to be fixated on noodles these days. Last time, I explored the noodles of Japan. This time, I turn to Italy.The Italians have taken the simple noodle and created a vast panoply of possibilities. Spaghetti, linguine, fusili, shells, orzo -- you name it. If you can think of a shape, it probably exists in a noodle. For today's dish, I dug deep into the pantry and came out with bowties. They're quite wonderful for capturing sauce, but let's face it - aren't they wonderful to look at on the plate? I mean, they sit there cheerfully, practically smiling at whatever it is you can dream up to pair them with. They retain their appearance when cooked, so you can design a dish with shapes in mind, as well as colors.

So I had this head of organic broccoli, and a couple of leftover scallions from the soba dish. The dark green would definitely pop against the creamy colored pasta. But it needed more. Then I remembered the 5 purple basil plants I've got growing outside. Now, I have no idea if I'm making this up or if it's true, but I associate purple basil with Asian food, and green basil with Italian. Or any other cuisine that might use basil. Not that Asian cuisine doesn't also use green basil, but I'm not sure if I've ever seen it used in Italian food.But no matter. It's what I had, so it's what I used. Besides, it's purple. And this dish was organizing itself around color, so the purple and the green seemed like a fine idea.

While boiling salted water for the noodles, and steaming the broccoli which I had cut into florets, I poured a good slosh of olive oil into a pan. Then add about 2 heaping teaspoons of garlic, minced very fine. Add the scallions, sliced very thin, and stir for a couple of minutes. When the broccoli has barely been steaming for 2 minutes, turn it off, drain and add to the olive oil mixture. Drain the noodles, return to the pot and add the oil mixture. Add more oil if needed. Add chopped basil (any color will do). This dish actually tastes best at room temperature. Perfect for those summer picnics!Since I didn't have any Parmesan to sprinkle over the top, I did without. Also, if you've got tortellini instead of bowties, it works great. I think the first time I made something like this, it was with cheese tortellini.

For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture
For a place to share what natural health remedies work for you, and which don't, visit my other blog: Second Opinion

Friday, July 6, 2007

Chillin' with Soba

It's been 4th of July watermelon coleslaw fruit salad hot dog iced tea margaritaville salad peaches and blueberries with vanilla yogurt kind of weather. Know what I mean? The kind of weather that makes you go to the fridge looking for something cooling, not something to cook. My crisper is filled with a variety of lettuces and other salad goodies, and I have enough fruit on hand to support an entire colony of fruit bats for the summer. Cook? Well.........maybe boil a hot dog - especially if it's a Trader Joe's Fearless Frank - those huge, perfect hot dogs that I eat only during this time of year. My ritual for the gods of Nostalgia. But my kitchen, which I still adore, even after living in it for 5 years now after the remodel, has not been where I wanted to be. Outdoors. Gardens. Purple basil and sedge grass and kangaroo paws were calling to me. Pots of geraniums and mint and lavender were wanting my attention. And a red shouldered hawk was shouting from the tall eucalyptus across the street.

This has definitely not been a time of baking, broiling or steaming. This has been a time of grazing.

But after a week or so of that kind of eating, I was rooting around for something else. I had been to the Farmer's Market and found a perfect piece of sushi grade Ahi. Perfect for the grill. But woman does not live by Ahi alone. For some reason, I flashed on an old cookbook I haven't looked at in years, called Asian Pasta: A cook's guide to the noodles, wrappers and pasta creations of the East, by Linda Burum. I remembered I had cooked a Japanese style noodle dish from there which was eaten cold. Her description of a particular restaurant in Tokyo which is equipped with a circulating ice-cold brook from which guests help themselves to noodles bubbled to the surface, as I reached for the book.

After looking through the recipes, I knew it had been a soba dish that I had made, but for some reason, none of the "dipping sauces" seemed to ring a bell. Then I noticed a small clipping from a newspaper stuck in the front of the book. A recipe for spicy cold soba noodles. This looked perfect!

Soba is a buff-colored, buckwheat flour noodle that contains some white wheat flour. It can be eaten hot in broth or cold with dipping sauces. There are several variations of soba, including one made with powdered green tea called Cha soba, one made with the addition of Japanese mountain yam flour called Yamaimo soba, and a fresh variety called Nama soba, which is often sold frozen.

I will give you the recipe as it's written (don't have a clue what newspaper it comes from), and then my "doctored" version of it.

Spicy Cold Soba Noodles

1/3 C soy sauce
1/2 tsp molasses (Didn't have it. Used honey instead)
1/4 C sesame oil
1/4 C tahini
1/4 C brown sugar, packed
1 TBS chili oil
3 TBS balsamic or red wine vinegar
1/2 bunch green onions (white and green parts), thinly sliced

1/2 pound soba

Place soy sauce in saucepan over high heat and reduce by half. Turn heat to low. Stir in molasses and warm briefly. Transfer to a mixing bow. Add sesame oil, tahini, brown sugar, chili oil, vinegar and green onions. Whisk to combine. Season to taste with salt, if desired. Set aside.

Bring large pot salted water to rapid boil. Add noodles, bring back to boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes or until al dente.

Drain noodles and plunge in ice water. Drain again. Rinse well under cold running water. Combine noodles and sauce, toss well and chill. Makes 2 to 4 servings.

Now I must tell you that this version, on it's own, is delicious! It was the dish I had cooked in the past, and the one that drew me back to investigating the cold noodle dishes of Japan. However, Toni being congenitally incapable of leaving well enough alone, decided that shitake mushrooms and snow peas, sauteed with a little garlic and a few more scallions would add an extra dimension to this dish. And then there was that tuna........

So I fired up the grill, combined some soy sauce and wasabe mustard from Trader Joe's, painted it on the fish and flash grilled the tuna. The end result is one that can be enjoyed by both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, with the addition or subtraction of the tuna. This dish would also work well with chicken or pork.
For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture
For a place to share what natural medicines work for you and which don't, visit my other blog Second Opinion