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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Bun Nem Nuong - Vietnamese Meatballs

Ah meatballs.. let me reflect on my love for thee..
You make me feel creative and sneaky.. for only I know what you are composed of.
I love that I can go down any path with you and you'll happily follow.  Add fennel seeds and garlic, you are Italian.. add worcestershire sauce and tabasco, you are American, add garam masala and turmeric, you are Indian, add soy sauce and doubanjiang, you are Chinese, add lemongrass and fish sauce, you are Vietnamese..
And that last idea is the one that stuck.  This all happened because the ground veal was on sale 2 for 1.. and I can never resist a good deal.  The real dealmaker was when I went to the store for some cilantro and came back with some thai basil.
Thai basil!
I've never seen it before and I'm sure I won't see it again for quite some time, so I jumped on the occasion.  It is very different than "normal" basil.  It is more tart and lemony and actually doesn't really taste like basil, but it has it's own world happening.  
I love when life gives me a subtle wink..
Yield 44 meatballs
500g (1lb) ground meat of your choice (I used 350g ground veal, 150g ground turkey)
2 carrots, finely grated
3 cloves garlic, finely grated
1 inch piece ginger, finely grated
1 egg
1 tsp baking powder (I used alsa)
2 leaves napa cabbage, finely diced
2 green onions, finely diced
1 large handful thai basil, chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 Tbsp)
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 tsp five spice
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
4 Tbsp water or more as needed
for pan frying:
2 Tbsp oil (I used olive)
1.  Make the meatballs by mixing all the ingredients together.  I did it with my hands, but traditionally you would use chopsticks and stir in one direction.  Let sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour refrigerated.
2.  Add in more water if needed.  The mixture should not be dry.  You should be able to form balls with your hands but it should be very gooey.  Make bite sized balls out of the mixture.  Mine were a little bigger than a lychee.
3.  To help the meatballs keep their shape, steam them on high for 5 minutes.
I did this in 3 batches in my steamer basket.  They can be done at this point if you want them to.. but I like the extra step.
4.  To get a nice color on them, when ready to eat, do a last minute pan fry of the meatballs.  Heat the oil in a wok and add as many meatballs as you are going to eat.  I froze the ones I hadn't pan-fried yet for future use.

or used as a topping to a Bun noodle salad.. as I did.

I'm very pleased with these meatballs.  They had a nice texture with a good mouthful of flavors.  I'm glad I used veal instead of pork, which to me smells funny in Asian style meatballs.  They were very juicy, as I was hoping and were a perfect addition to my Bun salad collection.  These would be great dipped in hoisin sauce or rolled in some sesame seeds for a future dim sum party!
These would work well in a romaine lettuce wrap or as a sandwich.. or even with some fried rice too.

The unmade bed picture is always my favorite...

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Cozze e Vongole alla Posillipo - Mussels and Clams in a Spicy Tomato Sauce

There is one last part of the Calamari and Sarde meal I had in Milan that I needed to recreate before feeling myself again.  We asked the owner if she had anything spicy to serve us, and since she didn't really have anything officially spicy on the menu, she had her husband cook up a mix of mussels and clams in a spicy tomato sauce that was so out of this world and seemingly simple that I absolutely had to make it at home.  It was so delicious, in fact, that I didn't get enough time to snap a photo of it before all of the hungry tired people started to dig in!  We had walked for over 10 hours that day to their defense.
I cook mussels quite often and clams not as often as I would like to, but I usually just do them simple French style, "Marinière," which does not mean "marinara" but just simply steamed with shallots, parsley, and finished off with some black pepper and served with fries.  I once did them on the plancha.. which was lovely, but I never in my life thought of making them with a spicy tomato sauce.  Why I have no idea...
Serves 4 as an appetizer or over pasta
500g (1lb) fresh mussels, cleaned and bearded
500g (1lb) fresh clams, scrubbed
5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
8 cloves garlic, 6 sliced and 2 grated
2 shallots, sliced (optional)
1 fresh red chile, sliced
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 can crushed san marzano tomatoes
juice from 1 lime
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
handful fresh basil, chopped
chopped flat leafed parsley for garnish
1.  In a large pot, heat 4 Tbsp of the olive oil on high along with the red pepper flakes.  Add the garlic and onion slices and the red chile slices.  Cook until onions are soft and garlic is fragrant.
2.  Add the white wine to all that lovely heat.  Swish around for 2 minutes, then add the can of tomatoes along with the oregano and lime juice.
3.  Simmer into a thick sauce.  No really, you want that sauce thick.  The mussels and clams release a lot of their inner selves which will make the sauce "saucy" again.
Turn the heat up, add the grated garlic along with the mussels and clams, stir around quickly, then cover and let "steam" for about 5-7 minutes, or until the open.  
4.  Uncover and bring the temperature down.  Stir in the basil and parsley.  Before serving, add the freshly ground black pepper and the last Tbsp olive oil for a nice finish.
Serve as is (as they do in restaurants) as an appetizer to share.. or as I did over some hot al dente linguine for a meal.

This craziness is so tingly I may have to make this spicy tomato sauce every single time I do mussels...

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Korean Spicy Baby Squid with Cabbage

I haven't gotten over my desire to eat squid, octopus, and mussels yet and I really don't think that's going to be going away soon.  I had the opportunity to cook for 1.. myself, and when that comes along, I like to put myself through an individual pleasurable experience full of heat and flavor.
This type of meal makes my eyes roll back and my nose run.. but it makes my soul smile..
Similar to the grilled version, Onjingeo Tonggui
Serves 1 as a main, 2-4 as an appetizer
250g (8.8oz) baby squid, cleaned, tentacles separated, and rinsed
1 cup shredded cabbage
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
juice from 1/2 lime
2 small cloves garlic, grated
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1 tsp black vinegar
1 Tbsp Sriracha sauce or chile paste
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
1/4 tsp sesame seeds
1.  Make the marinade by stirring all the ingredients together.  Put 2 Tbsp of the marinade into the shredded cabbage and stir the rest with the squid tubes.  Let marinate for 10 minutes.
2.  Heat a wok to high heat and cook the marinated cabbage for 2-3 minutes.  Set aside.
3.  In the same wok, add the squid along with the sauce.  Cook for no longer than 4 minutes, stirring.  If you cook longer, it will become rubbery.  You want it tender and nice and juicy.  They will shrivel a bit, but that's cute.

Serve cabbage topped with the squid garnished with chopped cilantro and sesame seeds.
Mine had a lot of sauce, but I like it that way.  You can add hot white rice to sop up that extra spicy sauce.

This level of spiciness takes me gently into a deep Nirvana...

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sicilian Stuffed Sardines - Sarde Beccafico

To accompany the stuffed calamari as an all time winner of my favorite meal I discover in Italy was this other Sicilian dish, Stuffed Sardines.  I can't say whether I liked the calamari or the sardines best, but what I can say is that being able to have both on the same plat for the same meal is a real treat.  I did the best I could to recreate the experience.  The stuffed sardines have a bit of sweetness happening with the raisins and pine nuts.  It's a lovely dish I had much pleasure tasting, analyzing, researching, and recreating.  The best part of hosting an Italian dinner is doing something spectacular without fillers such as pasta!
Adapted from CookingwithNonna
Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a meal
10-12  large sardines, gutted and butterflied (central bone, head, and tail removed)
drizzle olive oil
1 onion, sliced into moons
2 1/2 Tbsp raisins
2 1/2 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted
50g (1.7oz) breadcrumbs toasted in olive oil
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 Tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
few grinds black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
juice from 1/2 lime
1.  Mix all the stuffing ingredients together.
2.  To stuff, lay a sardine flat on its skin.  Place 1 1/2 tsp stuffing on the narrow side and roll it up.  Do this with all the sardines and fit them in a pan with slices of onion between them to keep them rolled up.
3.  Sprinkle the rest of the stuffing on top along with a drizzle of olive oil.
4.  Bake at 180°C 355°F for 20 minutes.  I ended up adding halved cherry tomatoes into the pan.
Serve as an appetizer or as a meal along with other items.
I served mine with Calamari Ripieni and Eggplant Parmigiana over some Arugula.
This is the best Italian meal I've ever put together in my life.  It was preceded by some Dolci Verdi olives and succeeded by Tiramisu with Grappa.  It also brought back some happy memories of my trip with the family..
The original dish I was trying to recreate is pictured here:
I couldn't find any blood oranges because they're apparently not in season, but I'm very pleased with my recreation of the dish!  I will definitely be doing this again.  The longest part is butterflying the sardines, but since you can buy them already butterflied, this dish could take no time at all to prepare and only 20 minutes to cook.  
And it didn't make the house smell of fish, strangely.  I would never do stove top sardines inside, but baked sardines work great for indoors!

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Sicilian Stuffed Squid - Calamari Ripieni

When I was in Milan, I had squid and octopus many times, but the most memorable of those times is when I had calamari the Sicilian way.  It appeared on the English menu just as "Stuffed" as if it was so obvious that it would be calamari and no extra precisions were needed.  There is another Sicilian "stuffed" recipe including sardines, and I will get to that soon, but these calamari were really intriguing.  I had figured out most of the ingredients after indulging that evening, but a bit of research on the Sicilian recipe brought to my surprise the use of capers.  I couldn't figure those out on my own simply because I'm used to using capers more as a salad or bagel topping than cooking with them.  It is very Sicilian to add capers to things, so I happily recreated this gem..along with the other gems I tasted that night.
Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a meal
300g (10.5oz) cleaned calamari tubes (I used 24 small but use 4 large whole if you can find them)
drizzle olive oil
3 cloves garlic, grated
70g (2.5 oz) breadcrumbs
handful chopped flat leaf parsley
1 Tbsp capers
2 Tbsp pecorino cheese
3 Tbsp olive oil
few grinds black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
pinch fleur de sel
1.  Make the stuffing by mixing all the ingredients together.  If using whole calamari, chop up the tentacles and add them to the stuffing.  If using just the tubes, take 4 of the small tubes and chop them up into the stuffing.
2.  Carefully stuff each tube.  They will shrink during cooking, so just keep that in mind.  If using larger tubes, you may need to "sew" the end with a toothpick.  I decided not to do that.  If you have extra, sprinkle some of the breadcrumbs over the stuffed tubes and drizzle some olive oil on top of them.
3.  Bake for 20 minutes at 180°C 355°F.

These were perfect and exactly what I was hoping!  They were subtley spicy, wonderfully tender.. full of texture from the crunchy breadcrumbs on the exterior and punch from the capers and cayenne on the inside.  It was also very easy and can be prepared ahead of time and cooked during happy hour!
I served this along with the stuffed sardines for an Italian dinner party and everyone was very enthusiastic about it.. to the point of overeating...
Here is the pic from the Sicilian restaurant in Milan I was trying to replicate:
Aside from the fried onion rings, I think I did a rather decent job!

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Tiramisu with Grappa

After spending almost a week in Milan, I was able to check off my list of things to eat in situ: pizza, risotto, calamari, octopus, sardines, and gelato.  I didn't eat any pasta but I wasn't really trying to.  The pizza is ok but not better than what we can get here in France.  The gelato was amazing.  That texture is just to die for!  Octopus is usually served marinated in a salad or as a carpaccio, which is awesome.  The calamari was out of this world.. More on that in the next post.  What I didn't check off my list is tiramisu.  Between the olive oil tasting, the salume from different regions, and the dolci verdi olives, I never found the opportunity to eat tiramisu in its mother country.  No problem.. I bought some grappa during my travels!  Since I've never made this dessert, I decided to include it in my Eataly dinner party.. Made the authentic way, with grappa.
Grappa is the distilled part of the grape leftovers after the juice is used to make wine.  It's kind of like eau de vie of grapes..
Yield 6 servings
3 eggs, yolks and whites separated
pinch salt
1 packet vanilla sugar
100g (3.5oz) cane sugar
250g (8.8oz) mascarpone
approximately 24 biscuits cuillère (sponge lady fingers)
25cL (1 cup) expresso or strong coffee, cooled
3 cL (1 floz) grappa or marsala
dark chocolate shavings for garnish
1.  Beat the yolks with the sugar and mascarpone until homogenous.
2.  In a separate mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff.. or as I like to say, make snow.
3.  Gently fold the snow into the mascarpone mixture.
4.  Prepare your assembly.  Mix the grappa and coffee together in a dish.  Dip each lady finger into the coffee grappa mixture.  Don't drown them.  Just a quick dip.
5.  Lay the dipped ladyfingers into your mould.  Tiramisu doesn't hold well, so use individual moulds if you want it to be pretty when served.
6.  Spoon the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers.  It should cover them.
7.  Repeat until desired layering.  I made 3 layers, which was perfect and I reached the top of my mould.
8.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours for it to "set" in a similar way as mousse au chocolat.  During this time it will firm up.  It's actually better the next day.
Before serving, add some chocolate shavings or cocoa powder for garnish.

The texture was exactly what I was hoping for.  With desserts like this, you don't know until you serve if it worked or not.  The next day was even better because it was much much firmer.  I'd recommend doing this early in the morning for a dinner party or even doing it the night before for best results.  The grappa was a bit strong.  I didn't mind, but I might use only 1 cL next time.. just for the aroma.

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Friday, May 8, 2015

Maa Chole Ki Dal - Split Urad and Chana Dal

I'm very happy to welcome a newbie to my pantry, unhusked split urad dal or black gram.  I've used it whole before in a Punjabi Dal Mahkani, but as any bean, pea, or lentil, whole and split are like night and day.  The cooking times and uses are different.  There is another level added when the subject is unhusked, meaning it still has its skin on.  It's usually in the husk that the most nutrition can be found, but certain beans are better off husked for digestibility.  The urad husk happens to sit well with me, so I'd rather have it unhusked.  The husked split urad are usually used to make idlii and dosas, or as a thickener in rasam or sambar due to their creaminess, but I've rarely seen them as a dal dish on their own.  I love the contrast of white and black on the split ones.  They made me so curious I couldn't wait to share..
Adapted from VegRecipesofIndia.
Serves 5-7 as a side
1/2 cup unhusked split black gram (urad dal), well rinsed and soaked 45 minutes
1/2 cup husked split gram (chana dal), well rinsed and soaked 45 minutes
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
pinch asafoetida (hing)
1/4 tsp turmeric
3 cloves garlic, grated
1/2 inch piece ginger, grated
1-2 green chiles, slit
1 onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tsp garam masala
salt to taste
cilantro and lime for garnish
1.  Simmer the dals in the water and salt until tender, about 20 minutes.
2.  Make the seasoning.  Heat the oil in a wok and add the cumin seeds until they crackle, then add the hing and turmeric until they fizz.
3.  Add the ginger, garlic, and green chiles and cook, stirring for about 30 seconds.
4.  Add the onions and let them sweat, then add the tomatoes.  Cook until they become mushy, then stir in the garam masala.
5.  Add the seasoning to the dal.  Cover and simmer for 5 more minutes or just put back on heat when ready to eat.
I served this topped with chopped cilantro and a hefty squeeze of lime with pappadam and Stuffed Brinjals.

The taste is very different from the "usual" dals.  The split unhusked urad melts in your mouth and the chana dal is not overwhelming.
Dals are my weak spot.  I could eat it every day and never tire.

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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Barli Vangi - Stuffed Baby Eggplant/Brinjal

I raked up the courage to go to my Indialand store today.. although it is in an unfamiliar neighborhood downtown, which means parking is a nightmare, I prepared a backpack and tennis shoes and decided to go through with it.  I needed a refill of all my daals and curry leaves which should keep me good for probably the next year.  I think I inherited this stocking up problem from my mother.  I definitely do have a bomb shelter in beans, lentils and rice, but there are just so many different varieties I can never just pick one!
As I was checking out, a lady behind me was holding some little yellow beauties.  "Oooh what are those?" I asked her.  "These are baby eggplants from Ivory Coast."
I pretty much dropped everything and dashed for those eggplants.  I lost my spot in a long long line but I have been fantasizing about baby eggplants for quite some time now.  I have scouts prepared to report back to me if they happen to see them.  I have seeds waiting to be planted when I move into my new house so I can just grow my own and stop having to look for them.  All this and for once I passed by and I hadn't even noticed them there.  I knew I would be stuffing them India style.  I'll eventually do other things with them, but I just wanted to stuff them this time.
As I started making this and setting up all my ingredients, I pulled out my bag of desiccated coconut only to realize I only had about 1/4 cup left.. and the original recipe called for 1 whole cup.  How in the world did I forget I needed coconut while being in Indialand stocking up on all the daals and spices I'd run out of??  I improvised and added some white poppy seeds to the mix.  To avoid losing the coconut flavor, I used 1 cup coconut milk instead of water for the broth.  I actually like the texture of it this way.. it's smoother.
Adapted from VegRecipesofIndia.
Serves 4
500g or 1lb baby eggplants, slit from the bottom with an X
2 Tbsp oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
pinch asafoetida (hing)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 cup coconut milk (or water)
1 cup water
1 Tbsp tamarind
1/2 cup peanuts
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
2 Tbsp white poppy seeds
1/4 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 inch piece of ginger
5 cloves garlic
1/2 onion
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp garam masala or goda masala
1/2 tsp coriander powder
pinch of salt
chopped cilantro for garnish
1.  Dry roast the peanuts, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and desiccated coconut until fragrant.  You can do this separately.  When cooled, grind into a powder.
2.  Make a paste by blending all the other stuffing ingredients together and then stirring in the powder.  Add a little water if needed.  It should not be liquidy.
3.  Stuff some paste into each of the eggplants into the slit.  I did not have any leftover paste and was able to stuff them well.
4.  Heat the oil in a wide heavy based pan.  Add the cumin seeds and wait until they crackle, then add the hing and listen for the fizz.  I like that part.
5.  Add the onion and cook until translucent, then add the tomatoes and place the stuffed eggplants into the pan.
6.  Cook for about 1-2 minutes, then carefully turn each one onto its other side and cook for another minute.
7.  Add the water and coconut milk along with a pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil, then add the tamarind and simmer, covered for about 30-35 minutes.
I served mine with some Maa Chole ki Dal and basmati rice topped with cilantro and a squeeze of lime.

This was the perfect ending to an oh so interesting day...

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Roasted Quail stuffed with Figs, Walnuts, and Spinach

To welcome my special guests this week, I wanted to go fancy, but still I wanted to stay true to my own cooking.  The way I go about this is to buy things I've never cooked before, such as quail, but create the recipe as I go.  All I did was look up baking time for quail to make sure I wouldn't overcook or undercook it.  For the rest, into the heart of my inspiration and my pantry and came up with a stuffing I knew would be a crowd pleaser.
Serves 5
5 quails
3 large or 5 small shallots, chopped
few pinches fleur de sel
1 tsp dried thyme
drizzle olive oil + 1 Tbsp
250g (8.8oz) fresh spinach, rinsed
3 cloves garlic, chopped
pinch piment d'espelette
juice from 1/2 lime
250g (8.8oz) fresh spinach, rinsed and chopped
16 walnuts, shelled and lightly chopped
10 dried figs (depending on the size.. mine were big) chopped
5 cloves garlic, grated
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp olive oil
few grinds black pepper
1.  Make the stuffing by mixing everything together so the ingredients are evenly coated and well distributed.
2.  Spoon the stuffing into the birds.  Fill them up as much as you can.  I ended up using my hands.  There is no better utensil than your own fingers.
 3.  Place the chopped shallots into a baking dish and arrange the stuffed birds on top.  I should have cooked them breast side down, but I forgot to flip them.  Sprinkle some fleur de sel, thyme, and pepper and then drizzle them with olive oil.
 4.  Bake at 200°C 400°F for 40-50 minutes, basting from time to time.
5.  While the baking is happening, sautée the spinach in a pan with the Tbsp olive oil and garlic.  Cook until it wilts and sprinkle it with lime juice and piment d'espelette.
Serve over the sautéed spinach.  I served mine with a mixed green salad as well.
My spinach was served 3 different ways.. baked inside the birds, sautéed under the birds, and raw in a salad alongside the birds.
Big hit, lovely flavors.. perfection.

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Tahitian Raw Fish - 'Ota 'Ika

Ever since discovering the existence of this traditional Tahitian dish from my Tahitian friend, I was waiting for the "right" moment to try it out.  Not that there is a "wrong" moment, but one must be attentive to the availability of fresh albacore tuna and tomatoes.  Spring is when white fresh tuna starts to make its appearance on the fishmongers stalls, and the price can vary, so it's always something to watch for.  The "right" moment just happened to coincide with the day I was hoping to make it and share the discovery with my family.  This blew us all away.  This Poisson Cru is made using a similar method as Ceviche or Poke, but in taste is completely different.  The idea is that the the fish and vegetables marinate in coconut milk and lime juice.  The lime juice slightly cooks it, as in Ceviche, but the coconut milk gives it an extra layer just as the soy sauce does in Poke where the very soul of the fish starts to sing to you, transporting you to a warm Polynesian beach with the locals dancing, hibiscus flowers in your hair, and your feet following the movement of the waves crashing...
This was the most pleasant discovery I've made in a very long time and I will be repeating it all through summer using different variations..of fruits and vegetables .. mmm mango!!
Serves 4-5 as a meal
600g (1lb5oz) fresh albacore tuna, cut into cubes
1 large carrot, grated
1 cucumber, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, grated
4 green onions, chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped (optional)
1/2 can premium coconut milk (about 1 cup)
juice from 2-3 limes
few grinds black pepper
Thai chile for garnish (optional)
Stir everything together and reserve in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Serve cold as an appetizer alone
or as a meal along with hot basmati rice.
The hot rice is a must if this is to be a meal.  It soaks up the juices and provides an interesting contrast to the cold salad, adding yet another layer of happiness.

This is the most authentic version I could do without fresh coconut, but my Grace Premium Lait de Coco is the highest quality available here in my opinion.  I cannot wait to do this again!
This is something you can keep simple or make extra fancy, depending on the serving vessel and adornments.  I had to add the chile.. it's my personal drug..

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