Entries Tagged as 'In'

Samosa Salad

Monday, February 1, 2016

After a week in Burma, we arrived in Mae Sot, Thailand, the border town just east of Myawaddy on the Myanmar side. We crossed on foot by a bridge that arched over a lazy, murky river. Sweat crept down my back, and my shoulders ached from carrying my bag. A woman sat in the middle of the bridge with a baby at her breast, and her eyes were flat as she held out her hand. Below, boats of a former era were packed to capacity, carrying people from one side to the next.

Getting to Thailand was a relief. The paved roads were more predictable. The traffic moved at a familiar pace, unlike in Burma where speed limits seemed to be arbitrary and drivers tailed the cars ahead, laying down the horn in an arrhythmic blast until the car in front gave the universal sign that it was safe to pass. Left blinker meant safe. Right blinker, not safe. We wouldn’t have to be careful about drinking tap water in Thailand. Cultural considerations seemed more predictable in Thailand because of the exposure we’ve had to Thai culture in the Western world. Of Burma, I had known next to nothing.

But as we settled into MJ and Matt’s home in Mae Sot over the next couple of days, I felt a yearning. I longed for the unfamiliarity, the unpredictability of Burma. For the shades of terracotta that colored the country:  in the sand, in the Buddhas etched into the temple walls, in the dirt of the roads, and in the milky, sugary tea. So much of the trip was beyond our control, and that, if I think about it, is exactly when I feel like I’m truly traveling. Moments when the floor dropped out from under us, we were humbled by human kindness. Hospitality seems to be part of the genetic weave of the people in Burma. Again and again, we were invited into homes of strangers, taken by the hands and led to the table, no matter if the house had been swept.

The first day we were back in Mae Sot, MJ took us to her favorite restaurant called Borderline, with a menu of Burmese vegetarian recipes. We ordered a samosa salad, among other things. Diane, MJ’s mom, had her new purple scarf draped over her shoulders, and her dad Mark had ordered a strong ginger tea for his cold. I think I ordered lemongrass tea. Or maybe tamarind, I don’t know. What did MJ drink? Lime iced tea? The dishes came, we shared them all, and it was all very delicious. But I can only remember the samosa salad. It could have been the exhaustion of the weeks leading up to the trip, but after the first bite, I had to fight back the urge to cry. As if however affecting Burma had been, however short but consequential the previous week, it was all woven into that salad.

 

samosa salad

I don’t know the samosa salad’s origins, but I imagine them to be humble, as a way to use up leftover samosas like panzanella for leftover Italian bread. To me, it tastes like the perfect thing to offer when a friend pops by unannounced. It tastes like genetic hospitality.

Samosa Salad (adapted from Mo Mo and Bo Bo’s Kitchen, a cookbook by the owners of Borderline)

If you’re ambitious and feel so inclined, you could make the samosas from scratch. If you don’t insist, I recommend taking them out from a shop. If you decide to buy samosas already made, ask for some tamarind or sweet chili sauce, too. You’ll use it for the dressing.

And since Mo Mo and Bo Bo make vegetarian samosas, I made this salad with vegetarian samosas, but you can do whatever you want. Buy one samosa per person (or serving). The proportions here are written for 3 large samosas.

Cut up the samosas with kitchen shears. Mince one shallot or half a small red onion.
Shred half a cucumber and about one cup of pale green cabbage.
Add about two teaspoons of chickpea flour and one tablespoon of sweet chili  or tamarind sauce.
Mix gently by hand, and eat right away. It will get soggy very fast!

Miso Soup

Friday, May 22, 2015

I’ve been ruminating on this post for some time. When I decided to take a break from writing here for awhile, I didn’t know it was going to last six months. I made the sudden move of starting school again full time last semester, and classes started in January. If you consider that I’ve let the possibility marinate for almost five years, the decision doesn’t seem so sudden. It still felt that way. There was an adjustment period, a steep learning curve. There were some tears. But I’m on the other side of that first semester now, with twelve more credits under my belt. And dammit, it feels good.

miso soup

Every Monday at 7:30 a.m., I’d pack my safety goggles and graphing calculator and head to chemistry lab, where our instructor would meet us at the door, laced with coffee and true enthusiasm for the periodic table. The man could motivate, and he expected us to show up and keep up. We’d start each lab with a quiz on that day’s procedures, of which we had to get a certain score or be dismissed from class before it began. And then we’d get going on whatever experiment was planned. My lab partner David could roll out of bed, grab a pen, and ace every one of those quizzes. I, on the other hand, could study the night before and an hour in the morning and still forget how many times we’d be using the analytical balance that day, which solution we’d be titrating, or what color a reaction solution would turn in the presence of starch. We started meeting on weekends to power through each week’s load of assignments. I worked for that C. David got an A. After our last test, we toasted with beers at Eli’s, a dark watering hole that has probably seen as many victories as defeats. I was surprised to feel wistful and proud altogether. Work will do that, if it’s honest.

Going back to school as a grown adult is interesting. I’m not the same student I was ten years ago. (Ten years! Makes my chest a little tight.) This time I’m in it for more than the parties and the independence. I’ve got a much better idea of what I want today, and wider eyes for the possibility. And this time, it’s my money. I still fight the urge to skip classes, and to procrastinate. What worked in business school does not apply to science classes (found that one out immediately after our first biology test), and so I’ve had to learn spanking new study habits. You know what’s funny? The moment I let go of trying to learn every single concept, I started to absorb more information. Those fine little details were tripping me up, and I was failing to see the big picture. If that ain’t a metaphor for life, I don’t know what is.

There wasn’t a lot of time for cooking or writing, and I’ve missed both. I ate many meals of scrambled eggs. I craved the sodium kick and the full-bodied bite of miso, and I made a lot of soup with it, tweaking the ingredients here and there until I landed on a recipe that didn’t need to be changed. To make it, you do need two kinds of miso. Here’s why: by itself, either sweet shiromiso or brown miso will make a fine bowl of soup. It’s the way I’d been making miso soup all my life (or as long as I’d been making miso soup, which is about two years). The two types of miso together are better, I think. The salty, earthy lick of brown miso grounds the gentler, whimsical shiromiso. Soon you’re so accustomed to them together that you can’t really remember them apart.

Hopefully you’ve had a fulfilling few months of all kinds of stuff you love, or are somehow finding your way back to it with the onset of spring.

Miso Soup (serves 2-3)
4 cups water
1 3-inch strip kombu
4 mushrooms
5 oz firm tofu
green onions
2 tablespoons brown miso
1 tablespoon white miso

First, make the dashi. (Dashi is a basic Japanese stock made from water, dried kelp (called kombu), and bonito flakes. The bonito flakes can be omitted for a vegetarian dashi. I don’t like the smoky taste of bonito flakes, so I usually make vegetarian stock).
In a medium sauce pot, combine water with the strip of kombu. Bring water to a boil, then turn off heat and let the kombu steep for three minutes. Strain the stock (kombu can be kept for a day or two, sliced thinly and added to stir fries-otherwise discard it).

Chop mushrooms and tofu to a pretty small dice. Slice green onions.

Pour dashi back into the pot, and measure out 1/2 cup of it in a separate bowl. Mix both (both!) miso pastes into the 1/2 cup of reserved dashi, and keep it aside off the stove. Meanwhile, bring dashi in the pot up to a boil and add mushrooms. Simmer on medium heat for three minutes. Turn heat to low and add the reserved miso/dashi mix to the pot. Add the tofu and allow it to warm through, then remove from heat before it boils and ladle into bowls. Scatter lots of scallions on top.

 

 

Pomelo Salad

Monday, December 15, 2014

About two weeks ago, I was wandering around the produce section of the grocery store in awe, as usual. I’m still not over the abundance of choice we get here. When I was fresh off the boat back in June, it was so easy to be critical of the size of everything, including the sky, and, apparently, the produce section at the grocery store. The first few times I mowed Mary Ellen’s lawn, I’d curse its enormity, and the invisible property line between her plot and her neighbor’s. Who needs this much grass anyway?! I’d mutter, while thinking of cancer and exhaust fumes and how crotchety I was becoming. Little by little, daily life chipped away at that, as it must, and I became a little more fun to have around. If you treat undesirable tasks as a chance to be mindful–mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, or segmenting a pomelo, say–it’s amazing how things change. I say this not because I’m the most mindful person on the planet, not the millionth most probably, but because I’ve learned to become mindful out of self-preservation. Without it, I’d be a ringer for Melvin Udall.

pomelo-salad-1

Pink pomelos are in season in the States now, and they are so much worth seeking. Have you seen them around? They look like oversized grapefruits, but they’ve got much thicker skin and sweeter flesh. Protected by thick and bitter pith, the pomelo becomes edible only when peeled and segmented, so it takes a little effort to prepare. A sharp knife with a non-serated blade makes it easier, but otherwise there’s no quick way to go about it. Segmenting citrus is a lot like butchering meat. You’ve got to slice through the tough sinewy bits with a delicate but steady hand to get to the gold, and it is so worth it once you do.

I didn’t know what I would make when I brought home that pomelo those few weeks ago, and it sat on the counter until last Saturday before I turned to Charles Phan’s Vietnamese Home Cooking. Tony and Niki lent the book to me when I’d just come home from Korea and a couple of weeks in Vietnam. I went back to the store for more pomelos just for this salad, which is the perfect example of the textural wealth of Vietnamese food. Bitter greens offset by flecks of mint, punchy citrus, crispy sweet shallots, and sweet, sour, hot vinaigrette. A good starter salad, this would be great before a hot bowl of pho. In fact, that’s exactly how we had it for dinner last Saturday (Tony made the pho, Niki made the cocktails, and I brought the salad). I urge you to try this at home while pomelos are in season. I’ll try to work on a recipe for pho in the meantime. Have a super week.

Pomelo Salad from Vietnamese Home Cooking (makes enough for 6 side salads)
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon shallot oil* (or other neutral tasting oil)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon minced Thai chili
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large pomelos
6 cups frisée (I couldn’t find frisée, so I used a combination of radicchio, romaine, and endive)
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup chopped spearmint
fried shallots

*to make shallot oil, heat 1 cup avocado oil (or your pick of high-heat oil) in a saucepan. When oil is up to temp (about 275 degrees F) add 1 cup sliced shallots and stir until golden brown (about 8 minutes). Remove shallots and drain on a plate lined with paper towel. Strain the oil to remove bits of shallot left behind. The oil will keep for several weeks in the fridge. The shallots should be eaten the same day.

First, segment the pomelos. Using a sharp knife and a cutting board, cut both ends off one pomelo so that it can stand upright. Then, stand the pomelo on the board and slice downward to remove the skin and outer pith. If you don’t reach the flesh on the first try, just restart at the top and slice downward again. The skin might be thicker than you first expect. Then, holding the fruit in your non-dominant hand, cut along both sides of each segment. Look carefully for thin lines of pith to find each segment–some lines will be paper thin. You’ll know you’ve cut away the pith when you’ve got pieces of clear, jewel-hued fruit in your hand. Don’t worry if the segments fall apart because you’re going to cut them into bite-sized pieces. Repeat with each pomelo, and discard all the skin and pith.

Second, make the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, shallot oil, fish sauce, sugar, chile, salt, and 1 tablespoon water until the sugar dissolves.

 

Third, combine the frisée, red onion, mint, and pomelo chunks. Pour the dressing over it all and toss gently to coat. Drop fried shallots over the top and serve.

#cookwithmusic: Work Song by Hozier

Beet Hummus

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Do you know what the overnight low was for the Twin Cities last night? Two. Two degrees.

Two!

Year after frigid year, Minnesotans soldier through winter with a steady kind of pride. There is a charm to their manic ways, even if it makes me feel inferior. I grumble to my car, shake my fist at another gray sky, and take note of their exuberance as they chip ice from their windshields and their beards. While they jog next to ice-slicked streets, cheeks flushed and ponytails swinging, I stand shivering from our tiny porch, puffing the one cigarette I allow myself each week, staring through a web of spindly branches to a setting sun that colors the sky ombre, until the steady pock pock of running shoes slices clean through the belly of winter silence. The sound draws my gaze downward to seek the perpetrator, this loony human being who dares to exercise in these extreme conditions. Smoke curls skyward from chimneys, lights glow from windows, and we all scurry like mice to keep warm and stay busy. After a fresh snowfall, this neighborhood is a living snow globe. I take walks for better views, because it’s the closest thing I will get to running in the cold, and because I like to look in the windows of people’s houses. From the sidewalk.

Until we emerge from this monochromatic stretch of gray, white, and slush, I say we search for color elsewhere. Are you in? Because I~~~’ve got something for YOU.

beet hummus

I’ve been tinkering with beet hummus for a few weeks now. Roast the beets or keep them raw? Roast. Puree them smooth or keep them textured? Textured. Blend the beets with the hummus? No, swirl them. And then there was the question of sumac. Sumac is a flowering plant that produces bright crimson berries, and these berries are ground into a tart powder often added to hummus, rice, salad, or kebab. Some sumac plants are poisonous. I bought a small jar of it (the un-poisonous kind) with the intention of making za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend of sumac, thyme, and sesame seeds. One day, za’atar will be made, but until then, I will stare at this jar and try to dream up other ways of working through it besides sprinkling it over scrambled eggs. The usual. Any ideas?

sumac

Onto the reason we’re here–the hummus. If you don’t make hummus from scratch, this will sound like a pretty simple recipe, and it is. I wanted it to be easy and pretty, but with a couple of optional twists that could be added at the end to make it special. Sumac is tangy, bright, and really nice against the earthy sweetness of the beets. A garnish of fresh rosemary would not be very pleasant to bite, but a few crispy fried leaves is something else entirely. If you want to skip either the sumac or the rosemary, or both, you’ll still have a pretty bowl of hummus. The olive oil, though, is a must.

Beets are in season when we need their nutritional benefits and stunning color the most. Folate is good for detoxification, and it promotes cardiovascular, neural, and psycho-emotional health. Manganese supports bone health, fertility, and memory. Potassium keeps our brains functioning, stabilizes blood sugar, boosts metabolism, and helps us naturally regulate stress. If you need more reasons to eat more beets, you might consider Tom Robbins’ ode to the root. From Jitterbug Perfume:

~“Of course, there are white beets, beets that ooze sugar water instead of blood, but it is the red beet with which we are concerned; the variety that blushes and swells like a hemorrhoid, a hemorrhoid for which there is no cure. (Actually, there is one remedy: commission a potter to make you a ceramic asshole­–and when you aren’t sitting on it, you can use it as a bowl for borscht.)

An old Ukrainian proverb warns, “A tale that begins with a beet will end with the devil.”

This is a risk we have to take.”~

Happy Thanksgiving to you, to the ones you love, and to the people with whom you’re ambivalent.

beet hummus

Beet Hummus with Sumac

hummus (store bought or homemade)
roasted beets*
extra virgin olive oil
sumac
fried rosemary leaves**

In a bowl, combine hummus with chopped roasted beets. Stir to swirl. Add a mandatory glug of olive oil. Sprinkle with sumac and fried rosemary, if desired. Serve with pita, blanched or raw vegetables, sliced apples, olives. Anything you’d like to dip with.

*To roast beets:
Rub unpeeled, whole beets with salt, wrap in foil, and roast at 400 degrees F until a knife can easily pierce through the center of each beet. Let them cool, then peel them, then pulse in a food processor or chop by hand to a small, rough dice.

**To fry rosemary:
Pick leaves from a branch (about 12-15, or more if you want to have extra on hand to sprinkle over soup–highly recommended). Set a plate with a paper towel next to the stove (this is to drain the oil from the rosemary once it’s done frying). Heat a skillet, then pour in enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Use avocado oil, coconut oil, or another oil that can withstand higher temperatures. When the oil is heated, add rosemary leaves. Stir them to coat in oil, then let them get crisp. This takes seconds, so be sure to keep a close watch. Carefully transfer to the paper toweled plate to let the excess oil be absorbed.

Agua de Jamaica

Sunday, October 26, 2014

aguadejamaica3

What a week! Did you guys see the solar eclipse? Niki brought over a homemade viewer she fashioned from an old Riedel glass tube and some tinfoil. If you positioned it just right, with the tinfoil end pointed at the sun, and peeked through the square cut from one side to the inside of the other, you could catch a glimpse of a tiny crescent shaped sun under the thumb of the moon.

solar eclipse

My brother turned 29 this week, and next week my dad will turn 79. It has been years since we’ve celebrated either of their birthdays together, as we’re rarely in the same city at the same time. John is in Phoenix now, but my dad and I will go out to dinner in a few days with John in spirit. My dad’ll want to go to his favorite sports bar so he can hit on the prettiest female staff members while sharing a plate of loaded nachos. He’ll drink three, maybe four, frosted mugs of Michelob Golden Light. Depending on how busy they are, the ladies will either humor him or give a rushed hello, leaving him chuckling and me shaking my head, still wondering if I’ll ever reach a point where I won’t feel like bolting when he does this. He is a young 79, I remind myself, and that’s a very lucky thing.

I promised you the recipe for the Margarita of the Year, and today is the day. But first, we need to talk about agua frescas, the Mexican alternative to a lemonade stand on a sweltering afternoon. There are limitless combinations of agua fresca flavors: pineapple, cucumber, spinach and lime, watermelon, strawberry, various herbs and edible flowers. Agua de Jamaica is made with dried hibiscus flowers, sugar, and water. So simple. You steep the hibiscus flowers in water for about twenty or thirty minutes, and then you strain out the flowers and mix in some sugar so that you’re left with a tangy, concentrated syrup that looks like wine.

aguadejamaica1To make a hibiscus margarita, you make the syrup first. Then, you pour a glug of silver tequila, some Cointreau and fresh lime juice with some of the syrup over ice. Both recipes are from Roberto Santibanez’s book Taco’s, Tortas, and Tamales, which takes inspiration from Mexico’s streetside kitchens. People keep talking about hot cider and other spiced, wintry drinks, but as long as the weather holds out like it’s been doing in Minneapolis, so will I.

Agua de Jamaica (makes 8 tall glasses) from Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales
2 cups (about 3 ounces) dried hibiscus flowers
3/4 to 1 cup sugar

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot. Add the hibiscus flowers, turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the flowers steep for 20 or 30 minutes. Then strain the liquid through a sieve into a large pitcher, pressing the flowers to extract as much juice as possible. Discard the flowers, or save them to float in the pitcher when serving. Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves. **Stop here and chill the syrup for margaritas if making them. The syrup will keep for a week in the fridge.** Pour in 5 cups of water, stir, and season to taste with sugar. My friend Rocio suggested using sparkling water instead of flat, and less sugar (just 3/4 of a cup), and I liked it best this way.

Chill the pitcher in the fridge, then pour the agua fresca into ice-filled glasses or refrigerate for up to three days.

Margarita de Jamaica (Hibiscus Margarita) adapted from Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales
Hibiscus syrup  (see recipe above)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons silver tequila
1/2 cup Cointreau (or triple sec)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
ice cubes

Combine the tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, 1 1/2 cups of the hibiscus syrup, and 2 cups of ice in a pitcher. Stir well. Roberto recommends stirring for a full minute, and says it’s important that some of the ice dissolves in the drink. Then pour immediately into 6 glasses full of ice and rimmed with salt, if desired. Top with a few of the reserved hibiscus flowers.
aguadejamaica2 aguadejamaica4