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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Goma Ae

One of my absolute favorite Japanese sides is goma ae. It's made either with spinach or green beans, both of which are delicious! Pairing this with a bowl of miso soup and some rice is a wonderful light meal in my opinion. Just think about all those great probiotics you can be getting from the miso soup, too! Very handy for the ol' digestive tract when you're living in South Asia.

Goma Ae
200g green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
5 Tablespoons sesame seeds
1 Tablespoon sugar
1.5 teaspoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon dashi stock (this is why it works with the soup, just scoop it from the stock)

Steam the beans with a little salt until crisp tender. Drop into an ice water bath immediately after cooking. Toast the sesame seeds in a frying pan until fragrant. Grind the sesame seeds and sugar into a paste in a blender (dry grinding attachment if you have one). Add the soy sauce and dashi stock (or water) to the dry. Toss the green beans and sesame sauce together.

You can also substitute spinach for this. You can boil a bunch of spinach in salted water, plunge it into cold water to preserve color, and chop it into 1 inch pieces. You do need to squeeze the spinach in a towel to reduce the amount of water. Either way this is a gorgeously tasty little side "salad" of sorts.

Miso Soup

Japanese food lies at the very top of my all-time favorite cuisines. I'm not a huge fan of sushi, but Japanese food has so much more than that. Their little bite-sized salad selections just make me happy. Miso soup is something I love to have at restaurants, but is also incredibly easy to make at home. Yes, you can do it without the dashi stock (or as close as I can get here), but it's so much more delicious with it!

Miso Soup (for 4 bowls)
1 Tablespoon kelp flakes (this REALLY expands)
4 cups water
1 small block tofu
2 green onions, green and white parts sliced
4 Tablespoons miso paste

Fill a pot with 4 cups water. I do this with cold water, but in a pinch you could heat it to speed up the process. Add the kelp flakes to the water and let it sit for 30 minutes. That's your stock. Place the block of tofu on some folded up paper towels and place a weight on top to absorb excess moisture. Let it sit about 20 minutes before cutting into small cubes. Bring the soup stock up to a boil. Add the tofu, and for the sake of making sure all germs get killed, add the green onions and boil a few minutes. Scoop some of the hot stock into a bowl and add the miso paste to the boil. Stir to dissolve the paste in the water. Do a thorough job or your soup will be missing a lot of flavor from an undissolved chunk. Add the paste/water mixture to the pot. Stir just to heat through and turn off the heat. Technically, I think you should not boil the soup once the miso paste is added.

Note: If you've never made miso soup before, it separates as it cools so don't make it too far in advance. You just have to stir it up again to get it mixed when you eat it. Also, if you don't know where to get miso and kelp flakes, there's a shop called Uttam here that caters to East Asian customers. They've got all that stuff, but you could also try Japanese restaurants as many of them sell at least the miso paste quite cheaply. A lot of vegetable sellers carry tofu IF you buy in the morning. It gets sold fast, but it's ridiculously cheap for a block so its no wonder.

Chana Masala

I do not like to be a creature of habit when it comes to food. I love variety in my diet. Even if I'm eating from the same region every day, I still would like some variety. Chana Masala is one of the ways I like to change up our lunches from the traditional lentils and rice. Padhu over at Padhus Kitchen has some of the best, easy-to-follow Indian recipes I've ever used. This is one of hers that we use interchangeably for both chickpeas and kidney beans. Generally, I'm too lazy to do the whole blanching and grinding of tomatoes for lunch dishes so I've adapted this one slightly.

Chana Masala
1 cup dried chana or rajma, soaked overnight
2 onions, diced
1/2 to 1 cup tomato puree, depending on how much "gravy" you want
1 green chili, sliced and seeds removed
1 teaspoon ginger-garlic paste
1 Tablespoon oil
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (adjust according to your tolerance for spice)
2 teaspoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon chana masala
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 bay leaf (tej patta)

Cook the chickpeas in the pressure cooker until soft. This can take up to 45 minutes, but if they are soaked it should be more like 20-30 minutes. Mix the ginger-garlic paste, chili, and onion into a paste using a mortar and pestle. Heat oil in a pan. Add the cumin seeds and bay leaf. Once the cumin seeds are blackened and stop crackling, add the paste and cook until browned. This browning is an important step not to skip. It gives so much more depth of flavor. Add the puree, masala powders, and salt. Cook the mixture on low until the oil begins to pull away from the tomatoes. Add the cooked chickpeas, 1/4 cup of water, and cook another 3-5 minutes to heat through. Add fresh coriander leaves to the top for a garnish. Serve with rice or roti.

After lots of failed attempts at cooking Indian food, Padhu's site really got me interested to try again. I have not disliked anything I made from that site so give it a try if you like Indian food.

Brown Rice Salad

In the next few weeks, I hope to brush up on my food photography, but in the meantime, we're still working with unphotographed food. This salad is one of my quick lunch favorites. First, I'll give you the trick to perfect brown rice, and then the way to make this healthy ingredient a little not-so-healthy, but oh-so-delicious!

Perfect Brown Rice
2 cups brown rice
3 cups water

After rinsing the rice, turn on the heat and bring it to a boil uncovered. As soon as it begins to boil, put the lid on the pot, and drop the heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and keep the lid closed for another 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

I prefer my brown rice with a slight chew so 10 minutes is just right, but if you want it softer, you could leave it for the final steam longer. You can also vary the amount of rice, but the ratio should be 1 rice to 1.5 water.

Brown Rice Salad
6 slices bacon (how can we not love that?!)
1 medium red onion, diced
1/2 cup white or red wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 piece chicken cube
2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (sub regular if you don't have it)
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 to 1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 Tablespoon fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried
3 cups cooked brown rice

Cook the bacon until crisp and browned. Set aside to drain on a paper towel. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the grease. Saute the onion in the bacon grease until translucent. Add the vinegar, water, chicken cube, mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Add the rice and crumbled bacon. Cook the rice on low until all the liquid is absorbed. This will take 7-10 minutes. Stir in the dill and cool slightly before serving. At this point, I also like to toss in some cold chopped vegetables like tomatoes or cucumbers just to give a cool contrast to the warm salad.

This is a great make ahead salad that keeps well in the fridge, too. It's perfect for days like today when we decide to come home for lunch after church.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pasta Sauce

A few years ago, I found an ad for Del Monte tomatoes in a magazine. In the sidebar there was a recipe for a basic tomato sauce. It has been my go-to sauce since then because it's so incredibly easy. I have had to adapt it because seasoned canned tomatoes are not available here. You could use fresh tomatoes, but I really like the richer flavor of canned tomatoes.

Basic Pasta Sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can peeled, whole tomatoes
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat the oil in a non-reactive saucepan. Add the onion and saute until it becomes translucent. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute.
  2. Pour in the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and water. Use a potato masher or wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes (or just squish them in your hands first). Stir until the tomato paste is evenly distributed.
  3. Add the dried herbs. If you are using fresh herbs, do not add them until the end. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Taste the sauce and add salt/pepper accordingly. If the sauce is missing the sweetness of jarred sauces, add a little sugar. If the sauce seems to acidic, add one or two pinches of baking soda. Do this slowly though because once you lose the acidity of the tomato, you can't really recreate it. 
I find that step 4 is different for every batch of sauce because the tomatoes in the can are different every time. No, this sauce does not rival Western jarred sauces, but it's economical, tasty, and almost as fast as pouring sauce from a jar. For an easy meatless weeknight meal paired with pasta, garlic bread, and a sprinkling from the cheese stash, I can't beat it.

Note: When I lived in India, you could not find tomato paste or canned tomatoes. If that is still the case, you could substitute a few boxes of tomato puree or a box of puree and fresh tomatoes.

Pumpkin Leaves in Oyster Sauce

My husband bought a clump of weird-looking leaves, and I wasn't sure what to do with them. Turns out, they were pumpkin leaves so I did some searching for Thai pumpkin leaves to go with our Thai Cashew Chicken. I found this recipe on a Thai food website and had surprisingly good results with this interesting food! You could probably do this with just about any type of green leafy vegetable.

Pumpkin Leaves in Oyster Sauce
  • 2 cups pumpkin leaves, torn into small pieces
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce, less if you're using something like Kikkoman
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  1. After rinsing the pumpkin leaves, tear them and their stems into small pieces 1-2 inches. Anything that is too difficult to tear or snap with your fingers will probably be too fibrous to eat. I didn't like the idea of the little spines from the pumpkin in my throat so I also scraped the stems with a knife briefly to get some of those off. 
  2. In a wok, heat the oil over high heat. This dish cooks in about 3 minutes so have everything ready. Toss in the garlic and stir constantly to prevent burning.
  3. As soon as you notice the color beginning to change, throw in the leaves and stir to get the garlic off the bottom of the pan.
  4. Once the leaves begin to wilt, add the soy sauce and fish sauce. It might smell weird, but it tastes great.
  5. Stir for about a minute until the leaves have really shrunk and the liquid in the pan has evaporated some. 
  6. Stir in the oyster sauce and remove from heat. Add additional soy sauce if necessary. I found using the full amount of Kikkoman soy sauce was too salty so if you are using good quality soy sauce keep that in mind. 

Thai Cashew Chicken

The next few posts may be a bit boring because I didn't take any photos. I started the blog after eating them, but they are good recipes nonetheless. This recipe is one of my favorites in Thailand, but I wanted to adapt the recipe to something a little more kid-friendly in terms of its level of spiciness for my two little ones.

Thai Cashew Chicken
  • 2-3 Tablespoons oil 
  • 500grams/1.1 lbs chicken breast, sliced thinly (partially frozen makes it easier)
  • 11/4-21/2 Tablespoons Roasted Red Chili Paste (I used True Thai, but whatever you can find works)
  • 1/4 piece of a chicken cube like Knorr or Maggi
  • 1/2 cup hot water (drop the cube in this & mix)
  • 1 cup vegetables (peppers, carrots, broccoli--whatever you like)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 4 dried chiles, ends snipped and seeds shaken out
  • 1/2 cup cashews, toasted (4 minutes in microwave)
  • 1 small bunch green onions, snipped into 2-3 inch pieces
  • Salt and pepper
  • Steamed rice or flat noodles
  1. Start by heating 1 tablespoon of oil in a frying pan or wok and cooking half of the chicken until it lightly browned. Set aside, and add another tablespoon of oil. Cook the rest of the chicken, and place with the other chicken.
  2. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil and add the chili paste. You may need to temporarily drop the heat and cover the pan with a lid because the oils in the paste really make it splatter. Fry the paste for about 3 minutes until it is fragrant and not in one clump.
  3. To this add the water with the dissolved chicken cube, vegetables, onion, sugar, and oyster sauce. Once this comes to a boil, drop the heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes until thickened.
  4. Lastly, add the chiles, cashews, and green onions. Simmer covered until heated through. Remove from heat and serve over rice.
Recipe adapted from Cooking for Love

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Getting Started - Meal Planning

From my 7 years in South Asia, I've learned that planning can be both your best friend and worst enemy. When it comes to food with longer preparation times, planning tends to be your friend. In an effort to keep both myself and my husband from a million grocery trips each week, I plan all of our meals for a week at once. We buy all the main ingredients once a week so we only have to run to small fruit and vegetable sellers near our house over the remainder of the week. I don't really like planning breakfasts except for special occasions so I just keep random makings of breakfast in my pantry.

Honestly, getting creative in the kitchen with limited ingredients does not take a lot of magic tricks, just some know-how in terms of finding good recipes and adapting them. Here's what's on for this week:

Monday 
Lunch: Rice with Lentils and Mixed Vegetables
Dinner: Thai Cashew Chicken, Pumpkin Leaves in Oyster Sauce, and Steamed Rice

Tuesday
Lunch: Leftovers from Monday
Dinner: Spaghetti or Eggplant Melanzane with Garlic Bread

Wednesday
Lunch: Rajma Masala and Roti
Dinner: Taco Salad and Southwestern Corn

Thursday
Lunch: Vegetable Biriyani
Dinner: Miso Soup, Japanese Cucumber Salad, and Jasmine Rice

Friday
Lunch: Palakura Pulusu, Radish Curry, and Rice
Dinner: Chicken Nuggets, French Fries, and Steamed Vegetables

Saturday
Lunch: Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches (Yes, we adults do still like them!)
Dinner: Pizza and Salad

Sunday
Lunch: Brown Rice Salad
Dinner: Out at a cheap neighborhood dive

Monday
Lunch: Rice with Lentils and Mixed Vegetables
Dinner: Thai Noodle Soup with Minced Pork

Tuesday
Lunch: Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Dinner: Breakfast Casserole and Fruit Salad

 I'll try to provide or link you up with the recipes I've used over the next week.

Good Food

This is the start of a new blogging experience. I love food. So does my family. We live in a place where creativity in the kitchen can be a challenge so I hope this blog will inspire others in similar situations. It is possible to enjoy good quality, mostly healthy international food even in a place where less is available. Enjoy!