For many of us, outdoor grilling is practiced rain, snow or shine. But when the summer months come around, barbecue is king. We become bombarded with all sorts of ads about new barbecue equipment, fancy grills and cocktail concept.
And of course, there is July 4. Is there anyone who does not grill on July 4? Some of our friends, like the Craytons across the street, who go so far as to dig a pit and fill it with hot rocks to cook a whole pig. This is ironic, because 75% of their immediate family is vegetarian, but that leaves more for the rest of us debased carnivores. I appreciate the effort, and the outcome; but I can say that there is not a chance in hell that I would ever adopt that practice. But Kevin and Joe—you guys rock.
At our home, we probably grill at least three days a week. I will admit that part of the reason, in addition to loving the taste of seared meat and vegetables, is that all I need to do is the prep. My sweet husband has had a fascination with fire since infancy, and this gives him a chance to share in domestic chores while indulging his primordial urges. I have several good stories about how fire has gotten the better of Mr. Richards, and plan one day to put them into a book called, “I Know What I Am Doing.” It just gets longer and longer.
Once again, I digress. The other appealing thing about grilling is that if you are prepared with the right rubs, the main dish can be prepared almost instantaneously, ahead of time, so that you can lavish your creative attention on spectacular (but also easy) side dishes to round out the meal, or have another cocktail.
There are many pre-made rubs on the market, many of which are good. There are also pre-made marinades, most of which I think are awful and cloying, with a chemical aftertaste. The one exception is Lum’s Char Sui marinade, which is based on recipe developed by my dear friend Gordon’s family. The recipe was sold to a corporation and is now secret; and you can only get the marinade in Hawaii as far as I know. Or if you are really nice to Gordon and Gayle. But you can never have the recipe.
But rubs. Homemade rubs are spice blends that easy to do in bulk, all while still giving oneself the illusion that the outcome is the result of your own creative genius. And illusions are an important part of self-esteem. Here are some rub recipes that you can mix up so they are at the ready whenever the urge for fire sneaks upon you.
This is a rub that you can rub directly onto your chicken or pork, or you can mix it with some Greek yogurt to tenderize the meat for a few hours.
Combine into a lidded jar: ¼ cup smoked paprika with 2 tablespoons each of garlic powder and cinnamon, 2 teaspoons each of black pepper, coarse sea salt and ground cumin and 1 teaspoon each of ground cloves and sumac. If you want it hot, throw in 1 teaspoon of alleppo pepper. Then shake it, shake it, shake it. That’s all.
If you decide to mix the rub into yogurt, I would also throw in about ¼ cup of chopped mint.
This is more of your all-American Southern style rub, shamelessly adapted from a recipe I found on the internet, although I did come up with the name myself. This also starts with a jar with a lid.
Just combine: ¼ cub smoked paprika with 2 tablespoons each of salt black pepper, white sugar, brown sugar, ground cumin, and 1 teaspoon of hot pepper powder. I like chipotle, but you could use anything. And shake.
This is super good on chicken and uses Chinese 5-spice blend as its primary flavor, which is a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, fennel, anise and Szechuan pepper. You can make that yourself if you wish, but I usually buy it in a cellophane package at Uwajimaya. It’s good in a lot of things.
Just get another jar and add ½ cup of brown sugar, and 3 tablespoons each of salt, five spice powder and black pepper, plus 1 teaspoon each of onion and garlic powder.
As is the case with the above Turkish rub, you can either use rub the mixture directly onto your protein, or you can mix some into Greek yogurt and use it as a marinade, in which case I would also add the juice of a lemon and a clove or two of minced garlic.
But the basic rub is a combination of 6 tablespoons of paprika, 2 tablespoons each of coriander, cumin and sea-salt, 1 tablespoon each of black pepper, white sugar, tumeric and ground ginger, 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon and ground saffron, and few pinches of cayenne.
I have found that a small mesh strainer is very useful in making sure that the rub is evenly distributed over your protein of choice.
A couple of days ago, my son Hunter answered the door. A nice lady at the door presented him a bundle of garlic scapes for his mother. Hunter said her name might be Judy? Julie? Well, whoever you may be, THANK YOU for the lovely gift. And let me know who you are! One can never have too many garlic scapes, and I so appreciate your generosity.
I grow hard neck garlic every year, and I must say that the scapes that shoot out from the ground in June and July are one of my favorite things in my garden. First of all, it is essential that you cut the scapes off, so that all the energy in the plant goes to forming luscious bulbs of garlic. But even more essential is that you use those scapes. Do not throw them into the compost, silly.
They are like a cross between asparagus and garlic, only really curly.
If you do not grow your own garlic, it is still possible in the late spring and early summer to obtain garlic scapes at farmers markets.
Their culinary applications range from ridiculously easy to breathtakingly sublime.
• Ridiculously easy recipe #1: Sauté or chargrill a bunch of scapes until tender in sesame oil;season with salt and sesame seeds.
• Ridiculously easy recipe #2: Make garlic scape vinegar by shoving a two or three scapes into a bottle of rice wine vinegar for 3 or 4 days. Then pull them out. Poor the scape vinegar over cucumbers or any other salad.
• Ridiculously easy recipe #3: Make a garlic scape pesto with chopped garlic scapes, sunflower seeds, olive oil and parmesan. I store them in little tiny plastic containers and sometimes I freeze them, but usually not. This pesto can be tossed with pasta for a simple side dish, and they are absolutely divine tossed with Yukon Gold potatoes as an appetizer.
So today, as I was pondering what to do with a big batch of haricot verts (skinny little green beans) and romaine, I decided to break out the garlic scape pesto for my own version of a Salade Nicoise. Perfect for a summer evening.
Scaped Salade Nicoise
First make the dressing: I blended about ¼ cup of garlic scape pesto with the juice of half a really big lemon, ¾ cup of olive oil, a spoonful of Dijon, a drop or two of honey and salt to taste. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Then you prep the ingredients.
1. I boiled 4 farm-fresh eggs hard by bring them to a hard boil in water and then immediately turning off the stove. They end up cooking perfectly, with beautiful yellow yolks, in the hot water and with their own heat.
2. I then parboiled a few big handfuls of haricot verts until they turned bright green, scooping them out of the boiling water and then plunging them into a large bowl of ice water.
3. I then submerged 2 quartered Yukon Gold potatoes into the boiling water, fished them out after about 10 minutes, and let the water evaporate just a little bit before slicing them and tossing them, still warm in a bit of the lemony garlic scape dressing.
4. I then put the eggs, dressed potatoes and beautiful bright green beans into the fridge, along with two cans of tuna, so they all be could be really cold when time to assemble the Salade. You could use fresh cooked tuna, or even leftover grilled salmon, but it wouldn’t be the same.
Now to make the salad.
1. Open and drain your tuna. DO NOT USE tuna chunks packed in water, which would make the salad taste a lot like wet paper had been mixed into . Use whole tuna preserved in oil, and spread a little of the magic garlic scape dressing over it.
2. Make a base for the salad with a goodly amount of mixed greens into a large, shallow bowl.
3. Arrange artfully over the lettuce the following:
• The beautiful bright beans, seasoned
• The shelled eggs, quartered, perhaps with a smidgeon of truffle salt sprinkled over
• The dressed potatoes
• The seasoned tuna
• A few slices of red onions
• A few pitted Kalamata olives
• Sliced ripe tomatoes
• A garnish of bottled anchovies, a sprinkling of capers
4. After presenting this gorgeous assemblage to your dining companions, pour a reasonable amount of the garlic scape dressing over it all to toss.
You want to dress it, not drench it.
There are people who say they do not care for eggplant. To them I say, “Pshaw! You know not what of you speak.” This is because eggplant is so versatile, so healthy and so delicious. I truly believe there are no bad eggplants (unless rotten), only bad cooks.
But first, allow me a brief diversion that pertains to the title of this blog, which I could not resist, because it is what I like to imagine the Beatles are singing when I hear “I Am The Walrus”(instead of “Eggman.”). According to one internet site (Internet=The Source of All Knowledge), John Lennon wrote this particular song in reaction to a student who contacted him about the meaning of his lyrics for a school project. Lennon’s indignant response was to write a song of complete nonsense. Although, as you can imagine, the site then goes on to pick apart the lyrics of said song for whatever meaning there might be. Said site, explains that the Eggman was really Eric Burdon of the Animals, who was said to enjoy breaking eggs onto the bodies of female playmates. How tasteless.
Eggplants, on the other hand, have a subtle but deeply satisfying taste that enhances the flavors of whatever ingredient or cooking method one deploys. Like magic. A rose-colored glasses. Or other conscious-altering substances. It can be a spicy stew or a condiment. It can be an appetizer, a side dish or a main course. There are even eggplant dessert recipes, although I am not including one in this blog because the idea does not appeal to me even slightly.
The use of eggplant spans nearly every continent over several millennia. The consensus appears to be that they were originally domesticated in India; but they are also an essential element of Southeast Asian, Chinese, Japanese, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food. Eggplant is incredibly healthy, containing an incredible number of healthy antioxidants that act against cancer, bad cholesterol, joint pain and certain viruses. So eat your eggplant!
There are scores of different types of eggplant—in the US we are most familiar with the big round purple type and the thinner Chinese or Japanese eggplant. But there are also white eggplants that actually look like eggs, little round green eggplants, eggplants with purple and white stripes. Go to Uwajimaya to see eggplants of many hues and sizes.
They are all wonderful.
Some people express a concern about bitterness in the big purple eggplants. They recommend salting the eggplant pieces in a colander for a couple of hours, and then squeezing the resulting liquid out of the vegetable. Others recommend peeling it. I cannot be bothered with any of that.
The most important thing about cooking with eggplant is to make sure it is not undercooked. Undercooked eggplant has a cottony texture and can cause intestinal distress. Properly cooked eggplant should quite soft.
Just Plain Grilled Eggplant Slices
This is one of my favorite ways to do eggplant, but it is so easy that it seems silly to write a recipe for it. Just brush it with olive oil, chargrill it on both sides until nice and floppy, and then toss it a balsamic vinaigrette with chopped herbs. This makes a wonderful and healthy appetizer, a nice side dish or a great sandwich ingredient (with a little arugula, sliced ripe tomato and fresh mozzarella).
Japanese-style Grilled Eggplant for 6-8
This is also incredibly easy. For this dish I usually use 3-4 long Asian eggplants, but have also made it with globe eggplants. First, slice each eggplant into 4-6 slices almost to the stem, so that it kind of looks like an octopus. If you have a big globe eggplant, cut it in half lengthwise first and then slice almost to the stem. Rub it with a little vegetable and throw it onto the grill until it gets nice and mushy.
As it cooks, combine ½ cup of mayonnaise with about 1 teaspoon of sesame oil and a little dollop of soy sauce, and mix in about ¼ cup of toasted sesame seeds. When the eggplant is done, slice off the stem and toss everything together.
Indian-inspired Eggplant for 4
Earlier this year, Foodiesan made a trip to India, the birthplace of eggplant and hundreds of ways to bake, braise, grill, steam and sauté it. One of my favorite is Baingan Bharta, which I’ve have since been playing around with in a variety of ways. I have tried smoking a whole eggplant, grilling it over a gas burner and roasting it at high heat (like 500 degrees) for 20-30 minutes. I find that the most efficient and dependable approach is to roast it in the oven—which still produces a nice smoky flavor.
Take it out of the oven and let it cool a bit. While you are waiting, sauté a finely chopped onion, 3-5 cloves of garlic, minced serrano, a couple spoonfuls of grated ginger, and a couple of chopped tomatoes in a capacious pan. Rip the eggplant open and pull shreds of lusciousness out of the collapsed peel. After adding it to the sautéed vegetables, season the dish with about ½ teaspoon of turmeric, 2 teaspoons of garam masala, 1 teaspoon of curry powder, and about a cup of frozen peas. Salt and pepper to taste.
Eggplant Hoi-An for 1 or 2
This is a recipe that I adapted from Kim Fay’s Communion: A Culinary Journey through Vietnam (Copyright 2010 by Things Asian Press), which brought back wonderful memories of the lovely time we had last year in Vietnam. If you can get the slicing done right, the dish is quite beautiful. If you can’t get the slicing done right, it will still taste good.
Start with a medium sized globe eggplant. Slice it halfway down in ¼ inch slices, then flip it over, turn it 90 degrees, and do the same thing. Don’t be confused—all will become clear. At this point you can soak the eggplant for 30 minutes in cold, salted water. Up to you.
Then steam the eggplant for 7 minutes or so, until it’s soft, but not soggy. While it is steaming, make a simple little sauce of 2 teaspoons of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of brown sugar. After the eggplant is done steaming, take it off the heat and squeeze it between two plates to flatten it, draining off excess liquid. If all goes well, you should have a lovely set of overlapping eggplant fans.
Sear the eggplant in a frying pan about 3-4 minutes on each side, until it is brown and crispy. Put it/them onto a serving plate and sauté a chopped green onion, 2 minced garlic cloves and chopped hot green chili for a bit, then add 4 tablespoons of fish sauce. Put that all on top of the eggplant. Then drizzle the soy sauce/sugar mixture over it all. Garnish with mint and cilantro.
Have you ever had beef shank?
While at my favorite store Uwajimaya a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a special on beef shank. I had never had beef shank before. It looked so pretty and was so cheap. Always looking for a deal, I purchased some with the thought that I could surely make something with it.
So I started my research, and realized that the reason I had never seen beef shank in a store is that it is hardly ever for sale. This is because hardly anyone in the United States wants it. Because it is really, really tough. As stated in Wikipedia, “Due to the constant use of this muscle by the animal it tends to be tough, dry, and sinewy,” further detracting from its brand image.
The disdain for beef shank is historical in nature. For example, I found that in the mid-19th century, butchers would hang beef shank on a post outside their doors instead of signs to advertise their presence. Creepy.
In addition to finding recipes for beef shank in reference to Depression era cooking, it was also served at Civil War prisons. At the Libby Prison near Richmond, Virginia Colonel William Power bragged that:
“During my stay in Libby … I succeeded in making for each of my children, neatly finished, napkin rings out of the rebel beef shank bones – also a representative bible-formed pin cushion for my wife..”
The story of Libby Prison is an odd one, which I would never have learned about had it not been for my beef shank research. Evidently it is now located in Chicago, having been shipped by Charles Gunther piece by piece on 132 railroad cars and reassembled on Wabash Avenue to become a Civil War Museum. He was a man with big ideas. Transporting the entire prison was evidently not enough, and he later attempted to move to Chicago a pyramid from Egypt, and even Uncle Tom’s Cabin from Louisiana. He even wanted to transport Philadelphia’s Independence Hall to Chicago. He was not successful. Some people just don’t understand personal boundaries.
Once again, I digress. But you learn so much on the internet. In truth, beef shank is a standard item on Chinese, Mexican, Italian and Indian menus. As long as you braise it for a very long time (I’m talking 3 to 8 hours), beef shank can be delectable indeed. You just have to be very patient.
If you keep the bone in, and you can get your butcher to saw the shank into thick slices, you can make Osso Buco. Beef shank is also evidently a star ingredient in a thick and saucy ragu. What I did with my shank was to combine recipes for number of Indonesian and Chinese appetizers, to excellent effect:
Cold Five-Spice Soy Braised Beef Shank Appetizer
First, dust a boneless shank with salt, pepper and five spice powder and let it set over night. The next morning, sear it well in a dutch oven. Take it out of the pot and then sauté two onions, chunked and a dozen cloves of minced garlic. Once those are soft, add the following ingredients:
1 ½ cups of soy sauce
1t Chinese black vinegar
3 tablespoons of kecap manis (thick sweet soy sauce)
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons chopped ginger
¼ cup brown sugar, or more to taste
5 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1T five spice
1T garam masala
A bunch of chopped cilantro
1T Szechuan pepper corn
1 chopped jalepeno
1 T sesame oil
Put your meat back in the pot. And braise, braise, braise on very low heat. Taste it after a while, giving the flavors a chance to meld, and make whatever adjustments you feel necessary. More sugar? A little more garlic? More hot pepper? You be the judge.
I let it go for about 4 hours, then I turned off the stove and went out. When I got back, the shank was at room temperature, sitting in a luscious, dark, intensely flavored sauce.
The next step is to refrigerate it over night. This is important, because otherwise the meat will fall apart, and the whole point of the appetizer is to slice it very thinly and arrange it in artful overlapping layers on a pretty platter.
The garnish is up to you. I drizzled a bit of the braising sauce (drizzle, not pour), spicy sesame oil and sprinkled cilantro on the top, but other recipes call for lightly dressed microgreens. That sounds good too.
So all I am saying, is give beef (shank) a chance.
In truth, for much of my life I considered pork belly to be on the bad side of disgusting. Back then, in America, pork belly was relegated to banquets at Cantonese restaurants — quivering blobs of red-dyed fat served with eight other high quantity, low quality dishes. FACT: there are 147 calories in one ounce of pork belly, 92% which is fat.
Other than that, my only other awareness of pork bellies came from the term “pork belly futures,” a concept developed out of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to bring stability to pork prices throughout the year. When there was a glut of pork on the market, the bellies could be frozen and then transformed into bacon at a more financially opportune time. Ultimately pork belly futures became a euphemism for other types of commodities trading.
But what was once prosaic is now high art. In the new millennium, pork belly has become elevated to the height of culinary chicness and is featured on the menus of any restaurant that even pretends to be hip. Plus, my friend John Bodoia was raving about it. And even though hipness is beyond my ken, I timidly opened my mind.
SLOW ROASTED PORK BELLY
This recipe is adapted from the Foodspin guest columnist Chris Thompson, who claims that pork belly “thoroughly kick’s bacon’s ass.” More about bacon later. He suggests a three-phase process.
1. After scoring the belly and oiling it with olive oil, rub with a mixture of equal parts of garlic power, cumin, smoked paprika, cayenne and salt, plus two parts of brown sugar. Let that set in the fridge for a bit.
2. Place the belly fat side up in a 500 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, when the fat starts to turn brown. Then to the next phase: immediately turn the oven down to 325 degrees and roast that baby for 90 minutes.
3. Pour a can of beer into the roasting pan and roast for an hour.
Let it set for 15 or 20 minutes before pouring off the fat (for later uses) and cutting or shredding the meat.
After that, it’s up to you. You can put it in a sandwich or tortilla. You can put it in duck-buns with plum sauce or hoisin. You can serve it instead of bacon for breakfast. You can dab it behind your ears. Use your imagination, and then tell me what you did.
ON THE OTHER HAND, THERE’S BACON
I know, making your own bacon sounds a bit Portlandia, but doing it yourself makes for a product that is superior to what you can get in a plastic wrapper. You will need a smoker and a supply of Pink Salt #2, but no other special equipment. My suggestion is that you make a whole buncha bacon at once, since it is sort of a bother to go through all that trouble for just a meal’s worth. Just freeze that which you do not immediately consume.
This is the point in the blog when I might make a cheesy remark about “bringing home the bacon,” but in this case you would be “bringing home the pork belly,” which doesn’t have the same ring to it. Although I suppose you could accurately say “brining home the bacon.” Whatever.
By the way, that term, “bringing home the bacon” comes from 12th century England, where a church had the idea of awarding a side of bacon to any man who would swear to the Lord that he had not quarreled with his wife for a year. There is a back story to that, but I am not sure what it is.
So here is how I made my bacon.
First, make sure you have enough room in your refrigerator.
Then take off the skin (pork rind) and make shallow diamond cuts in the fat (try not to hit the meat) and then cut that big belly into 3 lb. slabs.
Next, you make a paste out of ½ cup each honey, sea salt and brown sugar (I used dark) with 2T Pink Salt #2 (which you can get at Amazon, unless you are John Bodoia), and 1T each of cayenne, fennel and smoked paprika.
Then rub it all over your belly—pork that is– and stick each slab into a ziplock bag, pressing out extra air.
Then, stick your bellies in the fridge, flipping them over every day for seven days (you could go a little longer if you wish).
After seven days, take the bellies out of their bags, rinse them, pat them dry and then leave them (preferably on cookie racks) in the fridge for 2 full days so they can form their pellicles. A pellicle is a coat of protein that makes it easier for the smoke to adhere to the meet.
Are you ready to make some bacon? Just throw those pellicled-pig-parts into a low temperature smoker, say around 200 degrees for around four hours. They should have an internal temperature of 150 degrees.
Slice it as thick or thin as you like. By the way, this makes some pretty awesome carbonara.
Foodiesan was a late bloomer when it comes to beer. It was only during her second pregnancy when she developed a craving for beer and coffee cake (not together, but I bet there is a recipe for that too!) that she even came to like beer. And then she wasn’t allowed to drink at all. Well, maybe a sip.
After giving birth to her son, she might enjoy beer occasionally but would never actually consider cooking with beer. It just seemed déclassé, like making pot roast with Doctor Pepper, or wrapping Pillsbury Crescent dough around canned Vienna sausages, or making anything with American cheese. What a snob she was.
Thus, the notion of cooking with beer has a slow realization to Foodiesan. In that respect she has been a slow adopter, and she hangs her hubris heavy head in shame.
With the cold wet months upon us, the soul cries out for food that is rich, substantial and deep in flavor. There is something about cooking slowly with beer that renders protein into tender and satisfying morsels.
Some people like the drama of dropping a shot of tequila into their mug of beer. The following recipe applies these same ingredients to a delectable carnitas-like stew. I came up with the idea when a friend gave me a big bag of chargrilled ancho chiles (Andale!), but you could also use regular peppers.
Start with a hunk (3-4 pounds) of pork shoulder, cut it into stew-sized pieces and season the pieces with salt. Brown them in batches (don’t crowd) and throw the meat into a crockpot. In the same pan, saute sliced onions and 4-5 cloves of garlic and put them in the crockpot along with a cup of grilled peppers. If you don’t already have grilled peppers, you should sauté one large green pepper at this time and then add that to the crockpot. Dump in a can of beer, ¼ cup of tequila, and a large can of stewed tomatoes. At this point, I add a couple of chopped chipotles in adobo sauce, but that is up to you. Season with a fistful of dried oregano, 2 teaspoons of cumin, salt and pepper to taste.
I then set the crockpot on high for 3 hours and at low for at least another three hours.
I bet you could add a couple cans of hominy while you are at it. I bet that would be really good.
When it’s all nice and soft, correct the seasonings and serve with warm tortillas and condiments like chopped tomatoes, cilantro, scallions, and shredded cabbage. And beer.
The following recipe comes at the suggestion of my dear friend, Sarah, who has fond memories of carbonnade as a young girl. Sarah is from Birmingham, England but the disk is Flemish. Which got me to wondering what the “Flemish” actually means.
Q: Is it a nation? A: No
Q: Is it a place? A: Kind of.
Q: Is it a culture? A: Bingo!
Once again, demonstrating my ignorance, I always considered the Flemish to be Dutch, probably because the only context I had was the Flemish artists, which I ignorantly equated with Rembrandt. Flemish refers to the former Belgian county of Flanders and to the region and culture of West Belgium. They speak Dutch, as do 59% of the rest of the Belgian population. The other 41% speak French, like Inspector Poirot.
But here’s the thing. When you google “Flemish food,” you are quickly directed to a “Beer Tourism” page. It is little wonder that Carbonnade Flamande is so revered in that part of the world.
This is actually supposed to be better if you make it a few days ahead, but I wouldn’t know. First, sauté a half pound of sliced bacon lardons in a large stewpot. When they are just about crispy, add a 2 chopped onions and a head of chopped garlic and cook over low heat until that is nice and soft. Then sauté 2 or 3 pounds of sliced beef in the same pan, and season with 2 teaspoons each of allspice and thyme. After searing, throw in 1/3 cup of flour (I use Wondra) and stir that around a bit to make kind of a roux. When that seems cooked, at 2 ½ cups each of dark beer and beef broth, 2 tablespoons each of sugar and cider vinegar, ¼ cup of wholegrain mustard, a couple springs of parsley and tarragon and a couple of bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 3 hours.
This is something that you could serve with mashed potatoes or egg noodles. Carrots are a nice side dish, and Sarah and I would even just add them to the pot in the last half hour of cooking. They add more sweetness and contrasting texture to the stew. But, it’s up to you.
So, another way that I have enjoyed beer in cooking has been with steamed mussels. I learned this recipe from my dear late friend, Frank Mahler, who was as much a foodie as I am.
Frank’s July 4th Mussels
Sauté a diced andouille sausage in a big wok. When they give up their oil throw in a half of a sliced onion, 2-3 cloves of garlic, and a half of a sliced fennel bulb. Add a cup of chopped tomatoes and red pepper and simmer for a little while before dumping in about 2 pounds of fresh, clean mussels and a bottle of darkish beer. Cover the whole thing for just a few minutes until the broth is simmering and the mussels pop open.
I miss you, Frank! So much.
Earlier this year, we went on an arts and eating tour of Southeast Asia—three weeks of studios, galleries, temples and meal after wonderful meal. And the best meals of all, for me, were in the wonderful, central Vietnamese, ancient coastal trading village called Hoi An.
Hoi An was a particularly active trading post between the 15th and 19th centuries. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, its architecture and cuisine reflect the many cultures that traded there, including Chinese, European and even Japanese traditions. Prior to the isolationist Tokugawa era, the Japanese merchant class grew and there was an active Japanese presence throughout Asia. There is even an ancient Japanese bridge in Hoi An that was built in the 1590’s.
There are many different types of wonderful restaurants and street food throughout Hoi An, but what truly distinguishes the town is its unique cuisine, which differs from the light, bright foods of the south and the Chinese-influences of northern Vietnamese cuisine.
Hoi An food is influenced by Japanese, Chinese and Mediterranean cuisine. It is heaven! Crab sopped with tamarind sauce, charcoal grilled meats on sticks or molded over sugar cane, crepes made with rice flour, and its famous cao lau, which is like a Vietnamese version of Japanese udon.
You cannot have authentic cao lau outside of Hoi An, because the noodles are made with well water and wood ash that can only be found in the immediate area. That having been said, it is worthwhile to attempt an approximation of cao lau that still tastes damn good, using either thick fresh rice noodles or fresh udon. You can find these fresh noodles at Uwajimaya or a Vietnamese grocery.
Not-Really-Authentic Cao Lau
First, marinate 2.5 pounds of pork chunks in 2 tablespoons of shoyu, 2 teaspoons each of five spices powder and sugar, 5 minced cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon of paprika and a couple pinches of chicken bouillon. Let it soak for at least an hour.
When you are ready to cook, sauté the pork, saving the marinade. Once brown, add 2 tablespoons of water to the pork and stir until the water has evaporated. If you like, you may slice the pork—it depends on how big the chunks are. Mix the leftover marinade with a teaspoon or so of corn starch and stir that into the pork over high heat, so that it is coated with a rich gravy.
In the meantime, quickly (like maybe 30 seconds) boil about two pounds of fresh noodles and then throw in about 8 ounces of bean sprouts for another 30 seconds or so. Do not overcook the noodles. They can turn to mush quickly. Once they are cooked, drain them immediately and toss them with your pork chunks in a large pasta bowl. On top of the noodles, artfully arrange a couple cups of shredded lettuce and/or watercress, ¼ C each of shredded basil, mint and cilantro, and a bunch of slivered green onions.
Sprinkle something crunch on top, some pork cracklings or peanuts or crispy chow mein noodles (presented in order of authenticity). Serve with sriracha and/or sliced hot chiles.
Another ubiquitous dish in Hoi An is a simple, but yummy dish, Com Ga Hoi An, which translates into English as “Chicken Rice.” Chicken Rice sound boring and bland to me, but I’ll go for Com Gan Hoi An any day. The poaching makes it silky and the flavors are lip-smacking.
Com Ga Hoi An
Before you get to the chicken, slice a sweet onion thinly and marinate in a mixture of equal amounts of sugar, fish sauce and rice vinegar.
This is how I poach the chicken. Get a few whole chicken breasts and plop into a big pot of water with a few slices of ginger, a smashed garlic clove or two, a spoonful of turmeric and a glug of sake or shaoshing wine. Bring to a full boil and turn the water off. Keep the lid on until the broth is comfortable to the touch. Take the now-cooked chicken (believe me!) out of the broth.
Strain the broth and remove any yucky bits and use this liquid to cook the rice with a teaspoon of salt. You want to end up with about 2 and a half cups of cooked rice. I refuse to tell you how to cook rice. It depends on the kind of rice and whether you do it on the stove or in a rice cooker.
As the rice bubbles away, you will make a dressing for the chicken made from a juice of a lime, a tablespoon of sugar, a tablespoon of fish sauce, chopped chile peppers to taste and some minced garlic. Taste it—the flavor should explode in your mouth. Also it should taste good. Need more salt? Add a little more fish sauce. A little too much kaboom? Add a little water.
Now you will remove the skin and bones from the chicken breast and shred it by hand. You may wish to use plastic gloves, unless you like yellow fingernails. Toss the chicken together with the dressing you just made.
When the rice is done, plate the dish with the rice, some shredded lettuce or cabbage on the side, chicken over the rice, put the marinated onions on top of that, and embellish with mint and cilantro. If you can get a type of Vietnamese mint, known as rau dam, go for it. It is actually pretty easy to grow (get the seed at Uwajimaya or through Amazon) and just like regular mint, it s-p-r-e-a-d-s.
But don’t stop there! You can also garnish with slices of lime and grilled jalapeños if you wish. I’d even think about throwing some chopped peanuts on top, at the risk of violating the authenticity of the dish.
And it is really good with beer.
Perhaps you are too young to have grooved to the beats of rock-a-billy pioneer Gene Vincent’s Be-Bop-A-Lula, which was a huge hit in 1956. But you might have caught the song later, when Elvis Presley, John Lennon, the Stray Cats, and even a middle-aged Paul McCartney reprised the song. (None of them had Gene Vincent’s edginess, though.)
I loved those nonsense syllables that punctuated the music of the Fabulous Fifties. Little Richard’s memorable lyric “A-wop-bom-a-loo-mop-a-lomp-bom-bom!” from his hit song Tutti Frutti. And what about Sh-Boom, by the fabulous Coasters?
But I digress.
What I really want to write about today is what could be the Korean national dish, Dolsat Bi Bim Bap, which although not a lyric from the fifties, is rather lyrical: a luscious rice dish-in-a-bowl, smothered with an array of vegetables, grilled meat and crowned with a raw egg yolk. Sound good? What makes it really special, is that you press the cooked rice into a searing stone dolsat bowl or a hot cast iron pan, so the rice can get crunchy on the bottom.
The dolsat bowl is a thing of beauty. Here is a picture. If you do not have some, I would recommend that you purchase some from my friend Kevin Strel at www.spiceberry.com.
The trick is having everything done ahead of time. It sounds complicated and it takes some sautéing and grilling ahead of time, but it makes for a nice presentation. First, wipe your oven proof bowls or cast iron pan with sesame oil and stick them into a hot oven, say 400 degrees.
Now make the sauce by combining two or three tablespoons of gochujang paste (found in Asian grocery stores or in the Asian section of your grocery store) with a couple tablespoons of mirin, 2 teaspoons of sugar, a handful of sesame seeds and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil.
Then, artfully arrange in separate piles, an array of vegetables on a large platter. You might sauté bean sprouts, julienned carrots, julienned zucchini, sliced onions or spinach in a little sesame oil. Sauté two cups of shitake mushrooms with a little soy sauce, sugar and mirin until the liquid is absorbed. So yummy.
On another platter, arrange your grilled meat and keep it warm. The other night I served bi bim bap with grilled kalbi (Korean short ribs) and giant prawns (see photo above). They were lovely. But you could use grilled chicken, grilled fish, tofu, or anything you fancy.
Then, put an egg yolk into as many little bowls as you have guests.
Your bowls will be damn hot by now, and you can make then even hotter by putting them directly on your burner. Press a good amount of rice into each bowl (or into a single cast iron pan) and bring them sizzling to the table, being careful to neither burn yourself or the table. Demonstrate to your guests how to arrange the veggies and protein on top of the rice, and nestle the yolk atop it all. Pour a little of the gochujang sauce over it all.
Don’t forget to serve kimchee on the side! (See my previous blog Fermentation Forment)
And put on a little Gene Vincent, and marvel at the fact that so many lyrics from the Fifties sound like the names of Korean food.
As the summer progresses, it becomes time to think about ways in which to preserve one’s excess produce. Freezing is, of course, an easy way to set aside for the colder months. But in days of yore, there were no freezers, and our ancestors relied on the miracle of fermentation to preserve their bounty.
It was a gift of the gods—Bacchus turned juice into wine; Osiris was responsible for beer, Japanese O-kami were responsible for miso and soy sauce. Bread, kimchi and its cousin sauerkraut, yogurt, vinegar, moonshine. Don’t forget cheese! We all reveled in the knowledge that the gods were great and generous in allowing for the miraculous transformation of simple produce into savory, long lasting nourishment.
As Western Europe’s scientific boom at the turn of the 19th century began, some people were starting to suggest that fermentation might be the product of a chemical reaction. But it was not until the late 1830’s that scientists started to realize that fermentation is due to the activity of molds, fungi and bacteria.
This conclusion was not without controversy. Proponents of a mystical philosophy called “vitalism” argued that living organisms contained a vital life force district from chemistry. Louis Pasteur, the father of modern biochemistry, was able to prove that fermentation is called by living organisms. His early studies on fermentation led to his subsequent development (with Koch) of germ theory, which stated that different types of diseases are caused by different types of micro-organisms.
And so the process of fermentation began to be mystifying in a whole different way. Wikipedia says,
“Fermentation takes place in the absence of oxygen (when the electron transport chain is unusable) and becomes the cell’s primary means of ATP (energy) production. It turns NADH and pyruvate produced in the glycolysis step into NAD+ and various small molecules.”
Well, if that doesn’t make the process of fermentation crystal clear, I don’t know what does!
But I think I rather prefer the idea of a Kim Chee God.
And speaking of kim chee — that Korean concoction of cabbage and/or other vegetables fermented with garlic, chili paste and fish sauce here is a recipe that will blow your mind. It takes a few days to get to the finished product.
Chop up into bite sized pieces about 2 pounds of nappa cabbage or bok choy, 1 medium sized daikon radish, a couple of carrots and a bunch of green onions. Brine them in a big, non-reactive bowl with 4 C water and 4T salt. Cover and let it sit overnight. Then add a mixture of one minced head of garlic, at least 4 inches of grated ginger, about 2-4 T Korean chili powder, and about ¼ dried bonito flakes. Drain the brine off, saving a bit for if you need it later, and then mix everything up with the seasonings. Pack tightly into jars.
When I was younger, I used to sit and watch TV with a bottle of beer and a jar of kimchee! So yummy but more than a little smelly.
What I didn’t know back then was how healthy fermented food are, because of their probiotic properties. Wellness experts claim that fermented foods can help you lose weight, prevent illness, and help with IBS.
I have also had a life-long love affair with takuan, which is that yellow pickle that you often see in Japanese restaurants along with other cold, pickled vegetables. It is made out of a Japanese radish called daikon.
Slice or cut into sticks three or four scraped daikon into a lidded plastic container and mix in a generous 2 cups of sugar. Slap the lid back on and stick it in the fridge for 2 hours, shaking the container every few hours. Drain and rinse. Combine ¼ C kosher salt and 1/3 C rice vinegar and brown sugar and add that to the daikon along with some chili flakes. You can add yellow food coloring if you wish at this point for a traditional touch. Put the lid back on and refrigerate for two weeks, tossing occasionally. After two weeks, pack the pickles into jars and screw the lids on tight. These pickles last a very long time.
But if these traditional Asian fermentations are too much for you, allow me to present a recipe for the ever popular cucumber pickle. These are two recipe offered by my favorite food radio personalities Nancy Leson and Dick Stein of Seattle’s KPLU.
DICK’S HALF-SOUR NEW YORK PICKLES (MAKES 2 ONE-QUART JARS)
Lay 2 sterilized 1 quart canning jars on their sides and push a grape leaf down to the bottom of each. Pack the medium cukes in to fill jars half way. Then, to each jar, add 1 tablespoon pickling spice and 2 cloves sliced garlic. Pack in the rest of the medium cukes, then wedge the small ones in between to keep them from floating up when brine is added.
Fill jars to top with brine, screw on lids and refrigerate or process in a hot water bath. Pickles need a week to mellow in their brine before being eaten.
NANCY’S WILD GINGER CUCUMBER PICKLES
Slice a pound of small cucumbers to quarter-inch thickness and combine with 1 teaspoon salt. Let sit for 1 hour. Rinse and drain. Then combine 1 t salt, 2T vinegar and 2T sugar with 5 tablespoons hot water. Stir up the liquid and pour over the wilted cucumbers. Toss with 2 sliced shallots and 1 T sliced ginger. Let it sit an hour before serving.
It is my habit, when searching for really good recipes on the web, to add the word “best” or “best-ever” in front of the topic, so that I can find recipes that food bloggers are truly passionate about. Of course, the term “best” implies that there are no better recipes to be found in this category. In the world. Ever.
Can there possibly be more than one “best?”Evidently so. There are many BEST-EVER meatloaf, BEST-BEST-EVER spaghetti sauce, and certainly BEST-IN-THE-WORLD barbecue ribs recipes. I have to believe, however, that the largest numbers of “BEST,” “BEST-EVER!” and “BEST IN THE WORLD!!!” recipes are found in the banana bread category.
So much passion! My dear husband suggested that I call this article, “Is that a banana bread in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?”
I have to believe that each author is sincere in the conviction that their recipes are the best. It comes down to personal preferences—How moist? How sweet? Should there be nuts? Do you avoid butter? What are your childhood memories of banana-bread-past? Do you avoid recipes that have too many ingredients? And what about the addition of other ingredients—Chopped apple? Mincemeat?
If you are a banana-only purist, you might run screaming in the other direction from my own personal best mincemeat banana bread recipe below. And I would say that perhaps you take yourself too seriously. It’s only banana bread.
Today I am faced with two full bunches of over-ripe, pondering whether to try a recipe that has been declared as the best by others, or to stick with my own, beloved tried and true. My research is taking me hours (so many superlatives!), and I’ve narrowed options down to a few “BEST” recipes, which I hope will appeal to the full range of personalities who may read this blog. Except vegans. Sorry.
Flour’s Famous Banana Bread (slightly modified) An adaptation of a blog recipe adapted from a recipe from Boston’s Flour Bakery+Café
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup melted or browned butter
4 bananas, very ripe, mashed
2 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
Set oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a loaf pan with parchment paper. Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Beat sugar and eggs with a whisk until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Drizzle in oil. Add mashed bananas, creme fraiche, and vanilla. Fold in dry ingredients and nuts. Pour into a lined 9”loaf pan and bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Make muffins with the rest. Or put all the batter into a bundt pan.
World’s BEST Banana Bread – No Kidding! At least according to the blog called “the fine art of confectionary”
First, butter a non-stick bread pan, then flour well. Combine and mix well the following dry ingredients in a bowl:
2 cups AP flour
¾ cup sugar
½ cup toasted coarsely chopped walnuts
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
In another medium bowl, coarsely smash 3 ripe bananas and gently add:
2 large eggs, beaten
6 Tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and gently FOLD until the flour is thoroughly moistened. Pour into the prepared bread pan and spread the mixture evenly across the top. Bake in a preheated 350-degree (F) oven for 45-50 minutes.
Moist Banana Bread From the blog called The Redhead Riter, by Sherry Riter
½ cup butter, softened 1 cup sugar, white 3 eggs, room temperature 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 2/3 cup flour, sifted 1 teaspoon baking soda ½ teaspoon salt 1 cup mashed bananas ½ cup sour cream ½ cup pecans, chopped
- Combine butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla and mix well.
- In a separate bowl, sift together flour, soda and salt.
- Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well.
- Add banana, sour cream and nuts.
- Mix until combined.
- Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Cool in the pan on a wired rack.
The Best Banana Bread (Ever) From the blog called The Pescetarian and the Pig
First, the Banana Bread Part
2 C flour
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 C chopped walnuts
½ C unsalted butter, softened
¾ C brown sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
4 overripe bananas
Next, the Crumbly Top
1 Cup Banana Bread Batter
⅛ Cup Flour
1 tsp. Cinnamon
½ Cup Brown Sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. In medium bowl, blend together butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs, vanilla, and bananas, unmashed, one at a time
3. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Slowly add the dry mixture to the wet mixture.
4. Fold in walnuts and then scoop out 1 cup of this batter and set aside.
5. Using the 1 Cup of reserved batter, mix in the flour, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Pour plain batter into a loaf pan, then spread the crumbly layer batter evenly on top. You can sprinkle extra brown sugar and walnuts on top if you wish.
6. Put it in the oven for 1 hr and 15 minutes to 1 hr 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a cooling rack.
Foodie-san’s Own Best-Ever Mincemeat Banana Bread
This is one that I adapted over 40 years ago from a Buddhist church fundraiser cookbook.
Throw-down, smack down! I featured this recipe in my 1974 cookbook, “Dishes of My Life Together,” and at the time proclaimed in as “the best banana bread you will ever eat.” I still feel that way, although over the years have encountered many other quite reputable banana breads. All are special in their own way, but not as special as mine.
1. Cream together 1 ½ C sugar with 2 blocks of soft butter
2. Stir in 4 eggs, one at a time and add 1T vanilla
3. Combine with a dry mixture of 2 ½ C flour, 3 ½ t baking soda and 1 t salt
4. Add 1 medium chopped apple, ¾ C mincemeat, ½ C chopped walnuts and 2 C mashed bananas
5. Mix it all together, put into 2 greased and floured loaf pans, and bake for an hour at 350 degrees.
Done. Or you could try….
Banana Mincemeat Bread
from the website grouprecipes.com
2-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 cup salad oil
2 cups sugar
2-1/2 cups mashed bananas 1 cup mincemeat
1/2 cup chopped macadamia
- Preheat oven to 325.
- Grease and flour two loaf pans.
- Sift together flour, salt and baking soda.
- In large mixing bowl combine oil and sugar then add eggs and mix well.
- Blend in bananas, mincemeat and nuts then add flour gradually to mixture.
- Pour mixture into prepared pans and bake for 1 hour.