Thursday, April 28, 2016

Red Quinoa and Watercress Salad

This salad, from Ottolenghi's newest cookbook NOPI, brings a lot of goodness to the table.

First, a huge serving of red quinoa provides a dose of "superfood" to our diets, adding even more nutrients, if that's possible, to a green salad. Second, the sharp flavors of the salad ingredients work well with most fish and seafood dishes; it's substantial enough to stand on its own. Third, pickling vegetables has been all the rage lately. The shallots in the salad get a boost of complex flavor and mellowing of the allium stink from a quick 30-minute pickling, a technique I am all too eager to learn more about.

A larger amount (200 gm) of quinoa goes into this dish than watercress (150 gm). I was surprised to see more grains than greens in a salad. But I can't be happier to add more quinoa every opportunity I have, knowing that it's so good for you. Quinoa is a complete protein. Other grains are usually combined with legumes to achieve the same nutritional value. Red quinoa may be harder to find than white quinoa, but the darker color adds a nice visual pop to the salad.

One unusual ingredient in this recipe is sumac, used in pickling the shallots. Ground sumac is a versatile and essential spice in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking. It has a tangy lemony flavor, although more balanced and less tart than lemon juice and milder and less acidic than vinegar. A small sprinkle adds a soft cherry color to any dish. Ground sumac also makes a nice, flavorful topping on dips like hummus. As I discovered on my trip to Turkey that it is used in everything -- from dry rubs, marinades, a tabletop condiment and dressing over vegetables, grilled lamb, chicken and fish. I picked up a bottle of ground sumac after the trip as I was missing that pleasant, fruity and tart flavor to sprinkle on cucumbers and salads when I returned home.

I needed some sweetness in the salad dressing, so I added one tablespoon of honey to balance it out. This addition is highlighted in red in the cheat sheet above. The red quinoa and watercress salad is joining IHCC's April potluck gathering together with another spring salad I posted earlier.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Spring Salad

A light drizzle of rain overnight seemed to have awakened the budding green shoots all around. Spring has finally arrived. I want to make a dish that sings to the glory of the season. There are so many lovely green vegetables in the market calling to be enlisted: artichokes, asparagus, peas and cabbage of all kinds.

When you put all green vegetables in one salad bowl, as Ottolenghi suggests, you get the most glorious celebration of spring. Four of my favorite green vegetables are asparagus, haricots verts, green peas and baby spinach; I like them year round. Even my latest favorites, black sesame seeds and nigella seeds, are making a spectacular showing amid this spring madness salad mix. The emerald tone of the salad and the earthy flavor of the seeds heighten the call to the soil and the awaiting vegetable and herb patch to be planted. There is clearly excitement in the air.

This is a very simple salad; you don't even need a recipe to make one. The key is getting the best and freshest ingredients that the season offers. Any number of green vegetables would do the trick.

First, blanch the vegetables in a big pot of boiling water until they are tender, but with a bite. Three minutes for the asparagus, five minutes for the green beans and two minutes for the peas, according to Ottolenghi's recipe. Then shock the vegetables in a bowl of cold water. I couldn't find fresh or frozen fava beans. I used green peas instead. Haricot verts would have been great, but I couldn't resist picking out some loose green beans from the farmer's market. So green beans went into the salad instead.

Toss all the vegetables in a dressing made with olive oil, sesame oil and lemon juice. A mad sprinkle of white sesame seeds and nigella seeds adds a finishing touch, bringing a feverish pitch to an already exciting mix. I should have sprinkled more seeds all over with abandon and exuberance. Spring is here!

Green vegetables: asparagus, green beans, peas and spinach

I am linking this post to IHCC's potluck gathering this week. Please check the blogroll for other exciting spring offerings.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Tartine Sprouted Amaranth Bread

Adding sprouted grains is like incorporating vegetable in your bread

You might be less familiar with amaranth. Similar to quinoa, amaranth is another super grain with high protein and nutritional value from the Andes. It so happened that the first sprouted bread I made was a quinoa spelt bread. I was totally charmed by its unusually soft crumb and beautiful crust, the best that any artisan bread can offer.

Sprouting, or germination, is the point at which the seed begins to transform from a grain into a plant through enzymatic process that breaks down starch into simple sugars to fuel the plant growth. Inherent nutrients, vitamins and minerals in the germinating plant are rendered more accessible and easy to absorb for our digestive system.

Sprouting grains is relatively straightforward. The steps are outlined in the cheat sheet below. You start by soaking the whole intact amaranth in water in a clean glass jar until it germinates. It would take two to four days depending on the room temperature. Rinse, drain, aerate (oxygen promotes sprouting) the grains twice a day until you see sprouts emerge, but before spider shoots develop. The sprouted amaranth can be kept in the refrigerator in an airtight container for a few days. Drain the sprouted grains thoroughly before incorporating them into the dough, an hour after the start of bulk rise, just like you would with ingredients such as nuts or dry fruits.

How can you top the health and nutritional benefits of the sprouted breads made with a good amount of super food? When we eat sprouts, we are digesting them more as a vegetable rather than a grain. In my book, you can never have too much vegetables. The challenge in bread making is how you'd pack all that nutritious goodness of sprouted grains in a loaf of hearth bread.

This recipe comes from Chad Robertson's Tartine Book No.3. The amount of sprouted amaranth to the total amount of flour (50% wheat, 50% bread flour) is roughly 25 percent. You could add more or less to suit your taste. The resulting bread will become denser as the amount of grains increases. Like quinoa, amaranth has no gluten and its flour cannot be used to make conventional style bread. I was pleasantly surprised how light and open this bread turned out given 50% in whole grain flour: dense in protein, and nutrients, but not at all in texture. A win-win!
Amaranth sprouts lend green notes to the bread, with the flavor of collard greens. The amaranth bread has a relatively open crumb bound with flavor. If you like breads made with super grains, this is another good one for you. You won't find these wholesome sprouted breads in bakeries anywhere!

Irregular open crumb and caramelized crust
Amaranth grains are ready when they have just sprouted

I am sharing this post with Bread Box hosted by Karen's Kitchen Stories.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Kimchi Fried Rice

Don't remember the chef who said this, when asked what his/her favorite dish he/she would cook at home after work. The answer was fried rice with kimchi. I stored that information in the back of my head until I saw this recipe in Curtis Stone's What's for Dinner. Curtis wrote that he was lucky to learn Korean cuisine from his Korean mother-in-law.

This week at IHCC, the theme is to cook a dish that you can relax and savor while lounging on a couch. So I thought of this bowl of rice. You can eat it with a fork, or a spoon or chopsticks. No one would mind the path you take to get the rice to your mouth, as long as you are sitting down. Even that can be negotiated. After I finished my first small bowl and craved for more, I stood by the stove and ate big spoonfuls of the fried rice, right off the wok! Until a voice inside started telling me, louder and louder, that I better stopped.

I can convince myself this is a vegetarian dish. Yes, there is carb. But I swapped out white rice for brown rice since you won't find white rice in my pantry. Otherwise, I kept the dish close to Curtis Stone's recipe. Besides kimchi, other ingredients are mostly everyday pantry items. You can whip up this satisfying, spicy, salty, comfort food in less than a half hour. Warning: Don't make it when you're hungry because you'd tend to overindulge, as I did, sitting down or standing up!

Supposed to chop up the kimchi, but I forgot.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Fried Ham and Cheese Sandwich with Vermont Sourdough Bread

My choice of bread to make this sandwich is my go-to plain sourdough bread with 20% whole wheat from Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread. I am fond of this bread, for no other rational reasons, other than the fact that it was the first sourdough bread I had mastered when I started learning how to bake bread.

It was quite a while ago -- three years, give and take. The taste and texture of this bread got me hooked. Not before long, I was committed to setting up the whole home bread-making process and operation. Ingredients for making bread are few and straightforward, but you do need a hot oven and some special equipment. Feeding the starter and baking my own bread has since become the ritual and rhythm in my kitchen. It's a game changer. There is no going back to the store-bought varieties. When we run out of bread, reach for the flour!

One thing for sure: David Lebovitz's recipe of fried ham and cheese sandwich is elevating a crusty sourdough loaf into a satisfying hearty meal. I need to find more recipes like this. Instead of ham, I used a few thinly sliced Prosciutto. Between the bèchamel and the gooey Comté, this sandwich is a real treat -- with a French twist.

I found it easy to fry the sandwich on a stove-top cast-iron grill pan. I bypassed the broiler step in favor of a more streamlined process. (Really, do I want to pile on more cheese in one sandwich? My arteries said no.) A heavy Dutch oven pan, which I have a collection of, was called into service as a sandwich press. I'm big on certain gadgets, Dutch oven being one of them. Finding multiple uses of the pots and pans I have on hand thrills me. These workhorses never fail to get the job done: fast, even and beautifully. I should start naming them, like the living, breathing pets.

You won't see me buying bread. You won't see me outsourcing sandwich-making. But you would see me flipping and serving these "gotta have it" sandwiches, pots and pans in hand, over an open fire in the kitchen. All smiles!

To see how other bloggers at cookthebookfridays have approached this recipe, click here. Surprised how many of them have made their own bread for this sandwich as well.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Salmon Curry

Mahhur Jaffrey served this salmon curry as a party dish for sixty at a benefit for her husband's chamber music group. Incidentally, a friend of Indian descent made a similar dish at a potluck party. I was not a big fan of salmon and did not even try it. My family and I have developed a serious aversion toward salmon as we grew tired of it appearing on the menu of nearly every corporate or private function we attended. But when everyone raved about the salmon curry dish at the party, I changed my mind and took a bite. It was good. Can this recipe revive my family's appetite for salmon?

The list of ingredients may be long, but the dish comes together quickly. First, marinade the salmon pieces with salt, cayenne pepper and turmeric. Prepare a poaching sauce consisted of brown mustard seeds, coriander, cumin, turmeric and curry powder, grated tomato, fennel and curry leaves, which takes about 10-15 minutes. This sauce can be made ahead. Then the salmon pieces are poached in the sauce for about 10 minutes in a single layer until they are cooked through. With very little fuss, but a great deal of energetic popping (from the tiny brown mustard seeds) at the start, the dish is ready to serve in short order.

Can salmon make a comeback? After making this dish, I'm convinced that salmon would stand a better chance at our dinner table, when it is hatched in a bed of tasty curry sauce.

Mahhur Jaffrey's dishes will be featured at IHCC this week. Mustard seeds will be popping up everywhere. To see some of these exciting Indian dishes on the offer, please check the blogroll for details.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Jammer Galette

What is jammer galette? Not until I've read Dorie's instructions in Baking with Chef Moi several times and made them this weekend that I finally got it. It is a hybrid between a big cookie and a tart with jam filling, spread between a bottom sable crust and a top streusel. Topped with some ice cream, you have a dessert complete with fruits, cream and crunch.

I made individual-sized jammer galettes with jam filling of all sorts, using a mini tart pan. I used pepper jelly, mango marmalade and fig jam. I can't quite identify which is which other than the color from the lightest orange of mango to the deepest red of fig. Texture-wise, mango marmalade is smooth. Pepper has red pepper fragments throughout. The fig jam has seeds in it. It was an unexpected fun game trying to guess which jammer galette you've picked.

When I ran out of the streusel, I used the remaining crust dough. Cut out in the same size as the bottom crust and then place it over the jam filling to top out the galette. These galettes, as shown in the photo on the right, turned out very much like the Dutch cookies I made recently. A different and cleaner look. A rich buttery taste but less crunchy, than those topped with streusel.

For cookies lovers, these jammer galettes are real treats. For my husband, his favorites were the red pepper galettes. The mild hint of heat won him over. I like all of them. Next time, I'll reduce the amount of sugar to make them less sweet for my taste.

There are other jammer galettes posted by bakers at Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) this week, please see the blogroll for their take on this recipe.

Mango, fig and pepper jam are used as fillings

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Seared Scallops and Peas

This is the inaugural post cooking with another IHCC's new chef, Curtis Stone. "If you get your hands on good ingredients and treat them properly, you don't need to do much," Stone says about his philosophy. I like the idea of cooking with fresh ingredients, which requires stopping by the seafood department of the grocery store. The local farmer's market won't be operating for another month. Too bad, I'd have gotten fresher seafood closer to the source, from the Jersey shore. In turn, I picked up some large sea scallops from the store, source unknown.

A few hours later, dinner was on the table. A simple seared scallops and peas. Curtis Stone's recipe (seared scallops and peas with bacon and mint, page 156, in the five-ingredient Fridays section in What's for Dinner?) calls for fresh peas. I used frozen ones. I have no qualm using frozen peas in view of the flash freeze technology which preserves peas at their maximum freshness. I substituted pancetta for bacon and chive for mint; that's what I had on hand.

It is a dish like this that makes it increasingly harder for us to eat out and order something, that wows us, and that we can't cook in our own kitchen. Are we so overexposed with food, or curated food, if you will? Food TV have certainly changed the culinary culture and experience. It seems to me that eating out in a restaurant has become more of a social encounter than an adventure in food. That's a whole different discussion all together!

The flip side of this conundrum is: there is no greater pleasure than enjoying a fine home-cooked meal around the dinner table with friends and family.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Persian Naan

I must have made breads in the hundreds, but have not made naan. I watched the PBS video of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid in Baking with Julia when the bakers just kneaded the dough for over 10 minutes. No mixers. No shortcuts. I felt odd that, as a baker, I've never kneaded the dough by hand for that long. What could be missing are the tactile change of the dough in my hands, the feel of gluten development and the meditative quality of kneading the dough, as part of my breadmaking experience. It's time to rectify that. Time for some heavy kneading.

(Kneading dough by hand can also be invaluable learning and sensory experience for young children to play and to create something with, like play dough. I can't think of a more wholesome teachable moment than showing how flour is transformed into food that can sustain a village.)

I can imagine, the way this flatbread is made, must have been around for centuries in central Asia -- in the community tandoors throughout the land. The mixing, kneading and rising of the dough follow the standard technique. However, the shaping technique is totally unfamiliar to me. The breads are stretched out lengthwise after the dough is divided. With ten wet fingers, heavily soaked with water, you pummel the fingertips on one side of the bread. The dough becomes very extendable. You stretch out the bread by pulling your hands apart into a long snowshoe shape and then drape it over both arms. (I stretched out the dough as long as my baking stone can accommodate. It took me a few trials to get a hang of it.) It's time to toss them on the preheated baking stone in a 500°F oven. They are baked until browned, about six minutes.

What you get is a rustic bread with dimples shaped by the fingerprints, from north to south. This gives the bread an undulating appearance. Part crispy and part chewy. This Persian naan uses old-world shaping techniques which are new to me. It is exciting to learn and, somehow, connect in the realm of timeless, nomadic and communal baking method. I feel more like an authentic baker for turning out authentic naan bread at home.

This naan would go really well with artichoke tepanade I posted a few days ago.

This post is joining other bakers at Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD), please visit the blogroll to see how they tackle this recipe.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Artichoke Tapenade

Tapenade gets its name from tapeno, the word for "capers" in the Provencal language. This recipe comes from David Lebovitz who insists vehemently that authentic tapenade must have capers in it. Period. Mashed olives alone can't quite do it. I agree, wholeheartedly. A stickler like me would have no issue with his approach. Calling a spade, a spade. Maybe one day, I'll wake up and decide to be a rebel, turn everything upside down, and take capers out of tapenade. But not today.

It's funny the way David gets into the stories about life and culture in Paris. In My Paris Kitchen (which the CookthebookFridays group is cooking with recipe by recipe) he wrote: "He (Jacques, the olive guy) complained so much that I nicknamed him the râleur. Complaining isn't considered a fault in France, but a normal reaction to life, where the odds always seem to be stacked against you." No complaints from me, not about the tapenade, or life in general, especially when spring is in the air. Today is a special day.

I followed the recipe using canned artichoke hearts, pitted green olives, olive oil, capers, fresh squeezed lemon juice, minced garlic and some cayenne pepper. Pureed all the ingredients in a handheld blender until smooth. Seasoned with some salt. I skipped the rosemary oil entirely, and added a dash of fresh pomegranate seeds. Pomegrante seeds add color, texture, contrast and sweetness to the tapenade, just the way I like it. I served it with some homemade crusty bread or naan. The rest went into the fridge. By the way the tapenade tastes, I think it'll be gone in no time!

Happy April fool's day!