My Favourite Summer Salad (adaptable for winter, too!)

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Leave it to me to post my favourite summer salad on the 20th of September, right?

But it’s still warm here in São João do Estoril, Portugal, and more importantly, couve (cabbage) is in season, while couves de bruxelas (Brussels sprouts) are not.

This salad originated at the wonderful food blog Love & Lemons, where it was featured as an only-seven-ingredient Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad. [Although it really really originated on our pal Karen’s Facebook page, which was what tipped the bride to the recipe.] Needless to say, when my betrothed first prepared it, I was sceptical. Maybe even dubious. But it was terrific, and light, and whenever she made it, we dove into our bowls like a pair of Tasmanian Devils on a meth bender. Brussels sprouts are a seasonal thing round these parts, though, and the frozen sprouts are not a good substitute — much like Christopher Lloyd, they are fairly unshavable.

Fortunately, cabbage — Savoy, or green, or red, or some combination of the three — is a highly acceptable stand-in during those months when sprouts are on the outs. And the absolutely brilliant bit about this salad (in either form) is that it will keep overnight in the fridge without going all wilty. Plus, even I can make it, which means that even you can make it. If you can operate a knife, a spoon, a whisk, and a bowl, you’re good to go.

Okay, I lied. You’re going to have to toast some slivered almonds. Trust me, it’s worth it. You can do it in the oven, or like I did, on the stovetop in a dry frying pan. Here’s a good article about the different ways of achieving this miracle of aromatic nuttiness. And yes, you’re probably — no, if my experience is any guide, definitely — going to overtoast on occasion. The good news is that, unless they’re blackened, the almonds can almost always go in the salad and work just fine.

Don’t burn your nuts.

My other favourite thing is that the salad hits every taste note: the cranberries bring sweetness, the feta is salty, the lemon has acid, the chives contribute a bit of herbaceousness to the mix, the cabbage and toasted almonds have a slightly bitter edge, and the olive oil adds umami. I’m going to sound like a bit of a broken record to longtime readers here, but I implore you to use the best olive oil you can get your hands on, and it’s worth squeezing fresh lemons for the dressing — if you can get hold of Meyer lemons, even better!

Feel free to adjust the amounts — and even ingredients — to suit your palate. Some folks prefer Parmesan or another salty cheese to Feta, and that’s just fine. No chives? Maybe you have some green onions. Walnuts rather than almonds? Go right ahead. Pomegranate seeds rather than dried cranberries? Okay. But please do give this version a go before you start your own mods, because the bride and I feel like we hit on a really good balance of elements.

INGREDIENTS

1 small (or 1/2 large) head of cabbage
240g / 1.5 cups dried sweetened cranberries (often marketed in the US as Craisins)
1 small bunch / 20g chives, finely chopped (scallions will work in a pinch)
400g / 14 oz. feta cheese, cubed or crumbled (if there’s not too much water in the pkg, you can add it to the salad)
150g / 1 cup toasted slivered almonds
FOR THE DRESSING
150ml / 5 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice (or about 2 lemons)
150ml / 5 oz. extra virgin olive oil (equal to lemon juice)

DIRECTIONS
Toast the almonds [see above for method(s)], and set aside to cool. Using a cleaver or large knife, shred the leafy part of the cabbage (food processors shred too finely for this salad). The solid center stalk can be discarded or julienned for use in the salad (I did the latter). Place in a large bowl. Add the dried cranberries. Chop the chives, and add them to the bowl. Crumble or dice the feta, and add it to the bowl (you can give this all a stir if you wish). Add the cooled toasted almonds.

Simple dressing — EVOO and lemon juice.

Squeeze juice of two lemons into a 500 ml / 2 cup or larger measuring cup, then add an equal amount of extra virgin olive oil. Whisk the two together for about 20-30 seconds to emulsify. Pour dressing over salad, taking care not to overdress. Toss salad so it is completely coated. For best results, return salad to refrigerator for 1-2 hours to cool. Re-toss salad immediately before serving.

Chilled Avocado Soup (Vegan)

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It’s a little warm and muggy today in São João do Estoril, Portugal, though I am not complaining. It appears from the news that much of the northern hemisphere is experiencing a heat wave right now, which makes it an ideal time for a super-easy-to-prepare chilled soup, especially one that requires exactly zero time on the stove. [Well, unless your bride asks you to make homemade croutons for it.]

A note about stock and salt: I use a Spanish commercial vegetable stock by Aneto that already has a little salt in it, so I let diners add some finishing salt if they wish. American cooks using commercial vegetable stocks will likely find them to be sodium bombs, so I would advise y’all to take it easy on the salt. Better Than Bouillon makes an excellent vegetarian stock base, but it’s not readily available here in Europe. Making your own vegetable stock so you can control the salt content is an option, but you certainly don’t want to do it on a hot day. At least I don’t.

INGREDIENTS

1 liter / 4 cups vegetable stock
125ml / ½ cup fresh lemon juice (lime juice can be substituted)
30g / ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 ripe avocados (minus skin and seeds)
3 green onions (scallions), chopped
4 cloves garlic (but I’m a garlic fiend, so you may want less)
1.25g / ½ teaspoon pimentón de la Vera
Optional toppings: croutons, parsley, diced tomato or bell pepper, toasted almonds, piri-piri sauce or Tabasco, cilantro

DIRECTIONS
Put all the ingredients into a blender. Blend on medium until desired texture is reached. Transfer to pitcher and chill (both you and the soup) for at least 1 hour to allow flavours to meld. Garnish as the spirit moves. Serve.


Soupe de la Semaine: Duck Egg Drop Soup

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Soup is good food.

Let me say this right up front: working with lemongrass is a pain in the ass. When I discover pieces of it in tom kha gai, it’s always like tasty little bits of indigestible wood, and I never have a graceful way of disposing of them. In theory, you can pound it into paste, but since I don’t have a four-ton press hanging about, I haven’t done that. I may try chopping it up and popping it in the Vita-Mixer with a little liquid to see if I can get something useful, and when that happens, I will share the consequences, even it it results in having to replace the Vita-Mixer. That said, lemongrass tastes so good, it’s worth the effort.

Today, I decided to throw about a dozen stalks and three liters of filtered water into the Instant Pot® and make, in essence, lemongrass broth. It was almost like a tea; fairly aromatic, but somewhat insubstantial, so I threw in some Better Than Bouillon stock paste for good measure. A couple of recent impulse purchases meant that I had a dozen duck eggs and a gigantic bag of Chinese leeks laying about, so I went improv in a big way. I’ve always liked egg drop soup, so I thought I’d try my hand at it. Simple simple simple.

The first chore was to clean the lemongrass, which had a fair amount of residual dirt, and then chop off the bits that weren’t going to be useful. The New York Times food section website has an excellent video on just how to do that. I did not bruise the lemongrass first, figuring that there was no need to leave any of those aromatic oils on my butcher block; the Instant Pot®’s pressure cooking function was adequate to force them into the broth. 30 minutes of high pressure with a natural release was just fine, as I was in the midst of doing other stuff at the time. Yay for multitasking, especially when a machine takes on half the tasks.

After the lemongrass broth was complete, I added the Better Than Bouillon stock paste to give the broth some heft, and added a little potato starch for thickening. The Chinese leeks are actually more similar to garlic chives than traditional leeks in taste and texture, and a quick clean and chop rendered them soup-ready. For the finale, a couple of duck eggs (or chicken eggs, if that’s what you have) pulled it all together. I could easily have gone more complex with spices or seasonings, but the stock paste brought sufficient salt into the equation, and I wanted to let the rest of the ingredients speak for themselves. A tablespoon or two of fish sauce would have been a welcome addition on some other day, and you’re welcome to play with your own mix. I can even imagine a place for some five spice powder or star anise as potential components, but on this day in this place, I opted for simplicity and it tasted fresh and good.

The technique for “dropping the egg” is pretty straightforward. whisk a couple of eggs in a Pyrex® measuring cup, then whisk a couple of ladles of the hot broth into the eggs. At that point, you can drizzle the egg-broth mixture into the hot soup a bit at a time as you stir the soup. Voila: egg threads. Done and done. I served it in bowls because it was hot and needed the surface area to cool a bit, but mugs are fine serving vessels as well.

Duck Egg Drop Soup
serves 8-12 as a starter

Tiny for leeks, aren’t they?

INGREDIENTS
3.5 liters / 15 cups water
12 stalks lemongrass, cleaned and halved (see above for technique)
3 tablespoons / 60 g Better Than Bouillon stock base
2 cups / 200 g Chinese leeks, chopped (green onions or garlic chives or leeks can be substituted)
2 duck or chicken eggs
2 tablespoons / 20 g potato starch (or corn starch)

DIRECTIONS
Clean and chop lemongrass (see video for technique). Add to Instant Pot® with 3.5 liters / 15 cups water. Turn lever on lid to “Sealing” (rather than “Venting”) and press the “Soup” button, adjusting the time to 30 minutes if necessary. When cycle is done, allow to depressurize naturally or turn lever to “Venting,” depending on your time constraints. Remove lemongrass stalks and add stock base and chopped Chinese leeks. Turn Instant Pot® off, then press the “Saute” button to heat the soup base. Whisk together potato starch and a small amount of stock (approximately 125 ml / ½ cup) to form a slurry; gradually add another 125 ml / ½ cup of stock while whisking, then add the thickened stock to the Instant Pot® container.

Crack two eggs into a Pyrex® measuring cup or other bowl, then whisk in about 250 ml / 1 cup of hot broth, stirring constantly. Drizzle that mixture into the Instant Pot® container, stirring constantly, so the egg becomes threadlike. Turn Instant Pot® off (or set to warming mode), and serve.

More than Bacon, Egg, & Cheese : Coconut Curry Soba Noodle Egg Bites [Instant Pot® recipe]

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Doesn’t take much to send me down the rabbit hole.

I’ve been goofing around with the Starbucks®-style egg bites for a bit now (as you can see here and here), and I’ve had some fun exploring sort of vaguely North American/Mediterranean variations on the theme commercially available at everyone’s favourite coffee charrers.

But why not move away from the tried-and-true cheese-and-egg model? How about something vaguely Caribbean? Or Eastern European? Or South Asian? The worst that could happen is the wasteful expenditure of some time, a few eggs, and my interest in “improving” on the already terrific.

Hard to get much more authentic than a coconut curry sauce marked “Product of Canada.”

I’d like to say I made my own coconut curry sauce for this recipe, but I’d be lying. It was totally an impulse thing, given that the local mercado had several bottles on markdown to $1.49 USD. [The total outlay for this recipe came to less than $14.00 USD, since both the sauce and the mushrooms were on special. I paid extra — like 25 cents per egg extra — for humanely-farmed eggs, but I think it’s worth it. For the first seven bites, it costs out at $4.00 per two-egg-bite serving, a fairly modest savings from the commercial version, especially when one adds in one’s time. But I still have sauce, mushrooms, eggs, herbs, and noodles left over for another batch and change, so the cost per serving going forward plummets way further, to $2.00; if I get some more coconut curry sauce, it goes even lower. Not too shabby.]

Soba, awaiting the warm embrace of sauce, eggs, herbs, and fungus.

I’m pretty sure you don’t just happen to have 5 ounces (or 150 g) of cooked soba noodles lying about, so allow me to offer you an option for the rest of the soba noodles you’re likely to cook in order to make this recipe. [This No Spoon Necessary blog’s recipe was the inspiration for last night’s dinner, but since the bride and I are ovo-lacto vegetarians until Lent’s end, I had to mess with it a bit. That’s another post for another day.] Also, this version is dairy-free, unlike most other egg bite recipes.


INGREDIENTS

4 eggs
5 oz. / 150 g cooked soba noodles (I flavoured the noodle cooking water with fresh ginger, lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, and tamari sauce)
10 tbsp. / 150 ml coconut curry sauce
4-5 small mushrooms, chopped
3 tbsp. / 18 g chopped green onions (2 or 3 shallots, just to make it easy)
3 tbsp. / 9 g chopped cilantro
2 scant pinches salt
olive oil or, even better, coconut oil to coat the molds
2 cups / ½ liter tap water for Instant Pot®
aluminum foil

Fungus and greens sweating it out.

DIRECTIONS
If your leftover soba noodles are in the fridge, put the ones you’re using for the recipe in a bowl with 4 tbsp. / 60 ml of the coconut curry sauce and let them sit overnight, or at least for a couple of hours; they’ll soak up the flavour. If you’re making the noodles expressly for this recipe, take the still-warm drained noodles and pop them in the bowl with the curry sauce and let them sit for as long as you can; overnight is best. In fact, I made both the soba noodles and the mushroom/cilantro/scallion combo the night before, because the timing worked out for me.

Oil egg bite tray, distribute soba noodles evenly into each cup and set aside. Chop mushrooms, green onion, and cilantro, place in a small frying pan with 1 tsp. / 5 ml oil (coconut, olive, or neutral), 2 tbsp. / 30 ml of the coconut curry sauce and the first pinch of salt; cook until soft and mushrooms have given up their liquor. Set aside to cool. [You can do this the night before if you want, and allow them to soak up the curry sauce flavour in the fridge.] In a medium size bowl, whisk the eggs, the remaining 4 tbsp. / 60 ml curry sauce, and second pinch of salt together until smooth. Fold in the cilantro, green onions, and mushrooms. Spoon mixture evenly into oiled cups in the egg tray. Add the water to the Instant Pot® container. Cover the egg tray loosely with aluminum foil, place it on the Instant Pot® steaming trivet, and lower it into the Instant Pot®. Set to “Steam” for 8 minutes at high pressure, making sure that the vent is set to “Sealing” rather than “Venting.” When timer goes off, wait four or five minutes (or more, if you desire), and flip vent from “Sealing” to “Venting.” Remove egg bites and allow them to cool for a few minutes before serving, or store in refrigerator up to five days. Reheat one or two at a time in the microwave for 30-40 seconds on “High” and serve.

Ribbons of soba in egg bites that bear a disturbing similarity to what are euphemistically known as “bull fries.”

Los cojones del toro. There’s a little something you can’t unsee.

Soupe de la Semaine: Vegan Hot and Sour Soup

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M-m-m-m-m m-m-m-m-m good.

M-m-m-m-m m-m-m-m-m good.

It all started with a bag marked Dried Black Fungus (Whole).

p1050184

Okay, I’m a geek. I admit it. Some people go to the beach, others go to art museums. I go to ethnic and foreign grocery stores. I’m happy to wax poetic about my experience at Carrefour in Galicia, but this one was much closer to home. It’s a market called LAX-C, and while it’s nowhere near LAX (a/k/a Los Angeles International Airport), it (like the airport) encompasses several of Los Angeles’ communities quite vibrantly. While strolling the aisles, I saw this bag of dried black fungus and just had to have it. Somebody out there clearly used this stuff, so it wouldn’t kill me, I figured. Into the shopping cart it went. I could figure out later what it really was and how it might be used.

When I got home, I discovered that it was nothing more exotic than dried wood ear mushrooms. I felt like kind of a naïf, but as luck would have it, I knew exactly how they might be deployed in a recipe.

I’ve been eating hot and sour soup for as long as I’ve been dining at Chinese restaurants, which is more than half a century. And yet, I never tried to make it myself until last night. Idiot me. Wow, this is simple. If you can operate a spoon, a knife, a pot, and a flame, you can do this. And if you have a cold, as I did when I made it, this soup beats the living tar out of chicken soup in terms of restorative powers.

NOTE: It’s easy to convert this soup to the trad non-vegan version, too. First, substitute chicken stock for vegetable stock. Then, add some shredded cooked chicken (or shredded cooked pork) at the same time you add the mushrooms, and right at the very end, beat a couple of eggs in a small bowl, and drizzle them into the soup as you stir it (that keeps them from lumping up).

If you want to keep this gluten-free, use tamari sauce rather than soy, and have a care if you are buying commercial vegetable broth that it doesn’t contain any grains that have gluten. Chances are, if it’s gluten-free, it will say so somewhere on the package.

INGREDIENTS

    2.5 oz. / 70 g package dried Chinese fungi, such as wood ears or cloud ears
    6 oz. / 170 g sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms
    8 oz. / 225 g canned bamboo shoots, sliced
    1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
    1 tablespoon / 20 g red chile paste, such as sambal oelek
    1/4 cup / 60 ml soy sauce (or tamari sauce if you want to keep it gluten free)
    1/4 cup / 60 ml rice vinegar
    1 teaspoon / 6 g salt
    1.5 teaspoons / 3 g ground white pepper
    1/2 teaspoon / 2.5 ml sesame oil
    8 cups / 1.89 liters vegetable stock
    8 oz. / 225 g firm tofu, drained and sliced in 1/2-inch cubes
    2 tablespoons / 16 g potato starch mixed with 1/4 cup / 60 ml water (you may also use cornstarch)
    4-6 green onions, chopped, for garnish

Soaking your fungi.

Soaking your fungi.

DIRECTIONS

Place the dried fungus into a bowl and cover with 4 cups / 1 liter boiling water. They should soften in about 20 minutes to half an hour. Squeeze them out into the bowl and place them on a chopping board. Reserve the liquid (it goes in the pot later).

Toss out the nasty tough bits.

Toss out the nasty tough bits.

Slice up the fungus into spoon-size bits. You will find that the “stem” (pictured above) is particularly tough, so cut it out and discard it. It may be white, or it may not, but you will be able to tell with your fingers that it’s not been rehydrated. (It was only the very center of those two mushrooms that I tossed; there was still a fair amount of useable fungus.)

Strain the remaining juice into a heavy soup pot or dutch oven (don’t want any mushroom grit). I had 3 cups / 700 ml mushroom water, so the remaining 5 cups / 1.1 liters of liquid came from vegetable stock, and I put that on a fairly high heat to bring it to a boil. You can add the mushrooms (both kinds) at this time.

Drain the sliced bamboo shoots and slice to matchstick width (I cut mine in thirds lengthwise), and add to broth. Grate the ginger into the pot (a microplane works well for this if you have one), or grate over cutting board with box grater and add to pot.

Add chili paste, soy/tamari sauce, sesame oil, salt, and rice vinegar to soup. Stir. Add white pepper 1/2 tsp. / 1 g at a time, and taste; I like it hot, but you may want to stop at 1 tsp. 2 g if you are not a heat freak. If soup is boiling, back it off to a simmer. At the 15 minute mark of so, add the drained and cubed tofu.

In a separate bowl, whisk 2 tablespoons / 16 g potato starch with 1/4 cup / 60 ml cold water to make a slurry. Transfer slurry to pot, stirring soup with whisk as you do to prevent clumps from forming. Cook a further 10 minutes and allow to thicken. Add chopped green onions and serve. Serves 4-6.

NOTE: The process can be speeded up dramatically if you do your mise en place ahead of time. Basically, you need to have the mushrooms and the bamboo shoots in the hot broth for about 10 minutes to sofeten them up, and you need a further few minutes to allow the potato starch slurry to thicken the soup. If you use a cornstarch slurry to thicken the broth, it needs a little time to cook off the pasty taste. That’s why I like potato starch.

Also, the “hot” is coming from the white pepper and the “sour” is coming from the vinegar, so those are the two variables you’ll want to control most carefully to achieve the balance you want. You may want to add each of those a bit at a time, tasting as you go.