It is that season. And even though I have two very productive fig trees, I never seem to have enough; nor does the season last long enough. This is because the fig has that perfect combination of versatility, fragility and lusciousness.
So I was wondering why the term “fig” is used when someone is saying they do not care, as in “I don’t give a fig.” The term has evidently been in use in England at least since Elizabethan times, when the people of the British Isles were actually unlikely to have had much direct exposure to figs. In fact, “figgy pudding,” sung about at Christmas, evidently does not regularly contain figs.
According to Wikipedia, the authority of much modern knowledge: “The derisive English idiom I don’t care a fig probably originates from the abundance of this fruit.”
This is utter speculation, and I have it on other internet authority that the term actually refers to the Spanish word Fico (= Fig) which comes from the Latin term for vulva. As is often the case in Western Europe, that term then was turned into an obscenity. The resemblance between figs and female parts escapes me. To me, a ripe fig hanging on a tree looks like an entirely different part of the anatomy, a part that females do not possess.
The fig is strange and interesting. Did you know that the flower of the fig actually blooms within the fruit? It is like a flower turned inside out. And some figs can only be pollinated by the very specialized fig wasp. Which leads to another intriguing saying, purported by Wikipedia to say in Telugu “Medi pandu chuda melimayyi undunu, potta vippi chuda purugulundunu,” meaning—“The fig fruit looks harmless but once you open you find tiny insects in there.”
Catchy, isn’t it? By the way, you may not have heard of Telugu, but there are over 74 million speakers of this language, originating in India.
Most people know about stuffing figs with mascarpone and wrapping them in prosciutto. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. You can also slice them, brush them with honey, and broil them. Or you can serve them with Greek yogurt for breakfast.
My friend Jenny, who is staying with me this week, and I have been going crazy with figs over the last couple of days. Yesterday I made a Fig Jam that blew me away. All you do is slice 1 or 2 pounds of Desert King figs into a sauce pan with a cup of sugar and the zest and juice of a lemon, and simmer, simmer, simmer until it is golden and gooey. Refrigerate and serve as part of an appetizer with goat cheese and grilled bruschetta. Beautiful!
One day we made a fabulously easy Fig and Nectarine Crumble, and here is the recipe. I tried to give it a slightly Indian flavor, in honor of the very insightful Telugu saying referenced above:
1 ½ pound of fresh figs
- 3 large nectarines
- 2 T flour
- 2 T sugar
- 1 t garam masala
- 1 t almond extract
Mix these things together in a bowl and put into a greased baking dish.
A stick of butter
- 1 C flour
- 1 C sugar
Whiz together in a blender. And crumble it over the fruit mixture. I suppose you could sprinkle some pine nuts on top of that.
Bake it at 350 for about an hour.
I figure we have one more harvest left to gather the remaining figs on the tree. Do you give a fig? Probably not, but I do.
Other than a kiss from my sweet husband, there are very few things on this earth that can make me swoon than the taste of truffles. They are earthy, deep, and reach into the bottom of my soul. Truffles go with so many things—eggs, pasta, sauces. You can dab them behind your ears (just kidding). A great source for truffles, truffle related products and recipes is La Buona Tavola in Seattle’s Pike Place Market (www.trufflecafe.com).
Last week, my sister Mary sent me a recipe for a truffle bruschetta from Rick Bakas’ excellent blog, which I promptly tried. The recipe was a great inspiration, but I think I have improved on it.
Rita’s Riff on Bruschetta with Poached Egg, Asparagus, Gremolata, Arugula & Truffle Oil
First, prepare the following:
- A bit of vinaigrette made with really good balsamic, olive oil, stone-ground mustard and herbs de provence.
- Cooked sprigs of asparagus about 3 per serving (if you have a grill going, throw them on for a bit), tossed with some of the vinaigrette
- Arugula tossed with some of the vinaigrette
- Slices of prosciutto or sopresatta
- A baguette sliced about an inch thick at an angle, brushed with olive oil and fried or grilled on both sides.
- Jumbo eggs or duck eggs, ready to be poached
- Shaved parmesan
- Fresh thyme and pepper
- Truffle salt and truffle oil
Just as you start to poach your eggs, toss arugula with vinaigrette, put onto small plates. Put the grilled bread on top of that. Put the prosciutto on top of that. Put the asparagus on top of that. By now your eggs should be poached. Gently place an egg on top of the bruschetta. Season with the truffle salt, pepper and fresh thyme. Drizzle truffle oil over that. Prepare to swoon.
When I made the bruschetta this weekend, I served it as an appetizer to a roasted chicken and French white beans. But this would also make a nice breakfast, perhaps with a French apple tart.
As for poaching
Some of you may be intimidated by the prospect of poaching an egg. Here is a fool proof method that you can mostly do ahead of time.
Prepare as many plastic wrap squares and custard cups as you have eggs. Place one in a custard cup and spray with oil. Plop the egg in and lightly season. Gather up ends of the plastic wrap and tie it with a little string. When you are ready to cook, just simmer some water in a shallow pan, take those little buggers out of their custard cup holders and plop them into the water. Simmer until the white looks reasonably cooked and the yolk is still runny.
One of the few jokes I can remember….
Q: Why do the French eat only one egg for breakfast?
A: Because one is un oeuf!
The salmon runs of today are much depleted since the time that Euro-American settlers first came to this land. And while I am not trying to do a guilt trip, I do ask for support for habitat protection and conservation.
So let’s appreciate our salmon! It is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, good for your heart, your central nervous system your skin and hair. Did you know that 4 ounces of wild salmon give you all the Vitamin D and half the B12, niacin and selenium you need in a day? It’s good for body and soul.
There are so many wonderful ways to make salmon, but since this is supposed to be summer (in spite of what it looks like outside today), I am sharing some recipes for grilled salmon, the first is a recipe I adapted from Nicole Routhier’s great Foods of Vietnam.
Grilled Hanoi Salmon
Marinate a boneless 2-3 lb filet of salmon for an hour or so in this concoction:
Juice of one lime
2 T chopped shallots
1/4 C fish sauce
2 chopped garlic cloves (or more)
1 T turmeric
1 T or more grated ginger
Grill the fish over medium coals, about 10 minutes a side, making certain not to overcook. Serve over seasoned rice noodles (see below). Foodie-san recommends wearing gloves when marinating the salmon. Unless you like yellow fingernails.
Rice Noodles with Nam Chuoc
Toss with a package of fresh, or dried and boiled ,wide rice noodles, a sauce made with 1/4 C fish sauce,
1/4 C rice wine vinegar, the juice of one lime; and 2minced cloves of garlic.
After placing the salmon on the noodles, generously garnish with a mixture of fresh basil; cilantro; mint, chopped green onions, lime wedges and charcoal-grilled jalapenos.
Make a miso paste by heating in a saucepan 1 cup red miso, ¼ C sake, 1/3 C sugar until blended. Quickly stir in one egg yolk until sauce is thickened. Let it cool. Massage the paste onto 2 lbs salmon filets. Let it soak in a couple of hours. Grill.
This is really good served over cold somen noodles that have been tossed with a little straight Memmi, a Japanese soup base that you can get at Uwajimaya.
Garnish with sesame seeds, green onions and some shredded nori.
Foodie-San has been taking a bit of a summer hiatus from her writing, while she has been on the road for work and play. The highlight so far has been a three week sailing trip along the Lycean Coast of Turkey—a truly magical area studded with thousands of Byzantine ruins, beautiful water filled with porpoises, epic history and the most gracious and beautiful people on earth.
Truly, my only complaint was the over-abundance of kebabs. They are certainly tasty, but we like a little variety in our diet.
Imagine, then, our delight in discovering the little restaurant, White Table while mooring in the port of Kalkan. Hosts Derman and Yigit Yucedag have set out to create something different: healthy, organic and carefully prepared menus amidst a sea of kebabs and bulgar. We dined there twice. Their mouth puckering, crunchy apple and raw beet salad was redolent of lemon and herbs, and their wine was excellent.
My memory may be a little faulty, but here’s my take on it. Toss everything together. It’s simple as that!
Raw Beet and Apple Salad
4 beets, juliened
2 granny smith apples, juliened
½ cup crumbled feta
¼ cup crumbled pistachios
Fresh herbs, chopped
Juice from one lemon
Salt and pepper
I would be remiss if I did not include a salad with more of an Asian flair.
Whiz together, 1 Thai chili, garlic clove, 1 T sugar, 1 ½ t rice vinegar; 1 ½ T each of lime juice, fish sauce, and peanut oil and marinate with half a sliced medium onion for a while.
Toss with one small shredded napa cabbage, a shredded carrot, shredded, ¼ each shredded basil, mint and cilantro. Or just get a sack of packaged coleslaw and add the herbs.
You can also add a shredded chicken breast if you like. Garnish with mint. Taste to see if you need salt or pepper.
These days, it seems like you can hardly turn a corner without running into yet another teriyaki joint.. Happy Teriyaki. Yummy Teriyaki. Best Teriyaki. Teri Teriyaki. Teriyaki has become the hamburger of the 21st Century.
Some are quite good. And just like hamburger joints, there is great variability in technique and quality of teriyaki.
And yet…and yet. There is so much more to the Asian grill than teriyaki.
Before stoves, before ovens, even before microwaves, there was fire. Grilling is the most basic form of cooking. It is one of the first ways in which homo sapiens distinguished itself from other carnivores. I hypothesize that it is not tool-making , in fact, that distinguishes humans from other life forms; the true transition to the top of the food chain occurred when we evolved from eating-to-live, to living-to-eat. There is a big difference.
Some might see this as decadence. I prefer to simply accept my destined role in the universe: Foodie-San.
In Asia, the art of the grill has melded the primordial draw to fire with the most advanced and evolved state of culinary bliss. Each Asian nation has its own grilling masterpieces, each to be loved in their own ways.
But nothing beats Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia—Southeast Asia is the Nirvana of grilling.
Imagine fresh, tart, sweet, salty and spicy all melded into one soul-searing blast of uber-umaminess.
I must admit that summer or winter, rain or shine, my husband and I grill constantly. That is to say, I do the seasonings, hubby mans the grill (in a very literal sense), beckoning back to pre-history.
This week, I feature two recipes that have become good-old standbys in my grilling arsenal.
Grilled Hanoi Salmon
Marinate a whole boneless 2-3 lb filet of salmon for an hour or so in this concoction:
- Juice of one lime
- 2 T chopped shallots
- 1/4 C fish sauce
- 2 chopped garlic cloves
- 1 T turmeric
- 1 T grated ginger
Grill the fish over medium coals, about 10 minutes a side, making certain not to overcook. Serve over the seasoned rice noodles. I would recommend wearing gloves when marinating thesalmon. Unless you like yellow fingernails.
Sri Lankan Chicken
Mix this all up. Soak 2 pounds of thighs overnight and grill. It can’t be easier.
- 2 t each: salt and pepper
- 2 T each soy sauce, canola oil, sugar, grated onion
- 2 each fresh minced serranos and crushed garlic
Who doesn’t love them? Every culture, every period of human history has produced noodles. I know that my life would be a more empty place without noodles. Most of us in America are familiar with the various types of Italian pasta, and there is probably not a college student in the world who hasn’t eaten their fill of cheap, dried ramen noodles.
Noodles can be made into appetizers, soups, salads, main dishes and some desserts. They can be made from wheat, yams, mung beans, canna bulbs, potatos, rice, buckwheat, acorns, even kudzu. Fortunately, olchaeng-chi guku, which means “tadpole noodles” in Korean, are actually made out of pureed corn and not amphibians.
Several nations claimed to have invented the noodle. Homer ate them in ancient Greece. Italians say that Romans invented the noodle in the 1st century B.C. in order to have a food product that would be easy to transport across their vast empire without losing quality. But in 2005 the National Geographic reported that archeologists found a bowl of 4000 year old noodles in northwest China. Evidently someone was sitting downtown to eat a fresh bowl of millet noodles, when a giant earthquake hit, triggering a massive flood that sealed the overturned bowl for posterity. The archeologists reported that the noodles looked good enough to eat. Now that’s shelf life.
I think that Koreans really have the noodle thing down. Savory, flavorful, hearty, garlicky. Yummmm. Today I want to tell you about some awesome Korean noodle dishes that will feed your soul as well as your tummy. They are easy, one is cold and the other is hot.
This Korean cold salad dish features sweet potato or yam noodles . So flavorful! The noodles have the most wonderful springy texture. It’s particularly great if you have some leftover bulgogi to add. If you don’t, you can actually purchase pre-marinated bulgogi at Uwajimaya or other supermarkets. But shredded chicken breast, scrambled eggs or fried tofu works well also. Yam noodles are available at Uwajimaya OR at Chinese/Korean groceries.
Photo by Jaden Hair, Steamy Kitchen
First, cook your noodles and drain them. Sauté together a thinly sliced onion, shredded carrot, ½ cup of nappa cabbage, a couple cloves of chopped garlic, about 8 oz of spinach, and 8 sliced shitakes for a couple of minutes. Add a mixture of 2 tablespoons each of sesame oil, vegetable oil, 3 tablespoons of shoyu and a teaspoon of sugar. Immediately add the noodles and toss. Then add meat or other protein of your choice. Garnish with chopped green onion and sesame seeds. This can be served cold or at room temperature.
Black, black, black is the color of my jja jang myun! Now, some people will tell you this is a Chinese dish, but I like the Korean version. In fact, this is probably the national dish of Korea. And so easy. Perhaps it will encourage you to pick up that carton of Korean bean paste next time you go to an Asian grocery store.
Remember, GET THE PASTE, NOT THE SAUCE.
Just sauté some chopped pork (or beef, or seafood) with a little ginger and mirin, and set aside. Next, fry up about 5-7 tablespoons of Korean black bean paste (called chunjang or jjajang) in a little oil, with 1 T sugar and 1 T oyster sauce, and set aside. Then sauté some shredded cabbage, a chopped potato (sweet or regular, but this is optional), zucchini and onion. Add 3 cups of water to the vegetables and simmer for 15 minutes or so, until the potato is cooked. Add the fried black bean paste and the pork and thicken with a slurry of water mixed with about 1T cornstarch. Serve over cooked thick noodles—fresh udon works well, but you could even use spaghetti. Garnish with something green, like chopped scallions or cilantro.
I am starting this blog with the intention to share with and learn from others who have a passion for the incredible experience that is Asian food: the simple elegance of Japanese food, the multi-layered,knock-your-socks-off flavors of Southeast Asian cuisines, the earthiness of Korean cooking.
I write as an Asian-American who is blessed to live in the Pacific Northwest with abundant seafood and shellfish, wild mushrooms, agricultural heritage, and reverence for quality and sustainability. Not to mention the burgeoning and creative wine, craft beer and small distilleries. Not to mention that multi-culturalism is a daily fact of life and pretension is shunned. Full disclosure: this is the DNA of Foodie-San.
I want to focus on small discoveries—ingredients you may not have heard of, or new ways to use familiar ingredients. And , everything must be delicious and extremely easy to prepare.
Today I want to write about coconut milk, which is healthy , delicious and versatile. It is a mainstay for Pan Asian and Pacific cooking. Check out Wikipedia for a summary of health effects http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coconut_milk , as well as instructions for how to make your own coconut milk.
As for moi, I buy mine in a can at Uwajimaya (www.uwajimaya.com ) in Seattle’s International District. In fact, I typically purchase many cans at once, allowing me to make impressive and extremely tasty dinners for company in a literal flash. Take this 3-sentence recipe for green curry mussels for example, which can be served as an appetizer or for dinner:
Green Curry Mussels
Sauté some sliced onions in a large wok until soft, add some minced garlic and then throw in about 3 pounds of debearded mussels. Next, add a can of coconut milk, a few tablespoons of green curry paste (which you can buy by the tub at Uwajimaya), a couple spoonfuls of fish sauce, a tablespoon of sugar, and a couple handfuls of spinach. Then, just mix it up and put a lid on it until the mussels just open . Garnish with fresh basil and cilantro.
How easy is that? You can serve it with white rice, some rice noodles (another awesome item for another blog) or just some crusty bread. And if you don’t have mussels , you can use chicken breast, fried tofu, eggplant or all of the above.
My hero, Mark Bittman, has a fabulous recipe for coconut rice at http://events.nytimes.com/recipes/6392/1999/08/25/Coconut-Rice/recipe.html . I usually gild the lily by using chicken broth instead of one of the cans of coconut milk, and add a little turmeric and saffron. BTW, Mr. Bittman (did I mention he is my hero?) has a truly awe-inspiring cookbook called The Best Recipes in the World. He’s telling the truth.