Friday, September 27, 2013

Forbidden Rice with Turkey, Roasted Squash and Walnuts

Last Year's Post: Smoked Salmon with Farfalle and Edamame
Two Years Ago:  Smoked Turkey Apple Panini

Inspiration can come from something as simple as peering in your cabinets to see what's lurking in there.  I discovered some forbidden rice in my pantry the other day and decided to create a fall-themed entree with it.  What, you are probably thinking, is forbidden rice and why do I have it if it's forbidden?  Basically it's black rice.  Supposedly it was considered the finest rice in ancient China and served only to the Emperor, so it became known as forbidden rice because it was forbidden to the general public.  I don't know if that's actually true or not but I like the story.  Anyway, I found this black rice at Whole Foods and thought it would be a great contrast to light-colored foods (think grilled halibut or salmon) or colorful foods such as the ingredients in this salad.  I always like to discover and try new ingredients that might be a little different than the norm to keep things interesting.

Forbidden rice tastes like brown or wild rice with a nice chewy texture as opposed to the softness of white rice.  If you can't find it at Whole Foods or other natural food stores, wild or brown rice would be a good substitute albeit not as pretty.  I'm all about pretty food whenever possible, and this deeply black rice is definitely pretty as well as dramatic.  In addition to its good looks, black rice is very high in antioxidants and iron so it's good for you as well.

So, to make it fall-ish I added roasted butternut squash, red pepper, sugar snaps, and toasted walnuts with a light vinaigrette.

In case you haven't cooked with butternut squash before, it's the pale-colored squash with the bulb at the end.  You probably won't need the entire squash (the smallest I found at the store was a 2 pounder, and you only need a pound) so plan to use the rest in another dish, or check the produce aisle for plastic cartons of already-peeled and cubed squash.  If you can't find it already prepared, peel the outside with a vegetable peeler, then cut in half.  Scoop out the seeds, then cut the remaining amount that you need into bite-sized (approximately 1" cubes).  Place on a foil-lined baking sheet, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast.

While the squash roasts you can cook the rice and make the vinaigrette.  The good news is that everything can be done in advance, or even the night before.  To make it a main dish I added cubed smoked turkey from the deli - one of my favorite meats for salads - but you could substitute literally any meat you want, such as chicken, duck, pork, beef, or bacon.  It seemed to want some creaminess so that's where the cheese comes in.  I used Manchego because I just so happened to have some in the refrigerator. You could, of course, substitute any cheese you like or just leave it out.

I'm calling it a salad because I don't know what else to call it, but you could serve it warm in which case it would seem to be more like a.........what?  Casserole?  Dinner entree? Who knows.  Anyway, whatever it is, it can be served warm, room temperature, or cold.  It holds well for several days so it would make a great dish for family gatherings or pot lucks.  And of course, you could eliminate the turkey and serve a nice piece of grilled chicken, fish, or pork on top of the rice mixture.  Same song, different verse.  I was trying to think of what I would call it in that event, but I finally gave up and just decided to call it dinner.

printable recipe
Forbidden Rice with Smoked Turkey, Roasted Squash, and Walnuts
Serves 4-5

Note:  The smallest butternut squashes typically available are about 2 lbs.  For that reason, look for peeled and already-cubed squash in your produce aisle, or plan to use the remaining squash in another use.

For the vinaigrette:
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable oil

For the salad:
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1” chunks (see note)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup black rice (preferably Forbidden Rice)
½ red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
15 sugar snap peas, trimmed and cut into thirds
3 scallions, white and green parts, sliced
½ cup diced hard cheese (Manchego, Cheddar, etc.)
8 ounces (sliced 1/2” thick) deli smoked turkey, chopped into cubes
½ cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 400d.  Cover a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and place the squash cubes on foil.  Drizzle with oil, generously sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss together with your hands. Spread the squash out in one layer and roast for 25 – 30 minutes, turning once with a spatula, until golden and tender.  Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, place rice in a medium saucepan with 1 ¾ cups water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Turn the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.  Let rest off the heat for a few minutes, then drain in a colander and let cool. 

While the squash and rice are cooling, make the vinaigrette by combining all ingredients in a food processor or shake in a jar.  Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

When cooled, add the rice to a large bowl and add the red pepper, sugar snaps, scallions, cheese and turkey.  Toss to combine.  Add the vinaigrette and toss again.  Add the squash cubes and gently toss to avoid breaking up the squash. 

Serve in individual bowls garnished with walnuts.

May be made in advance and refrigerated.  Add the walnuts just before serving.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Pad Thai

Last Year's Post: Pork with Fennel and Caper Sauce
Two Years Ago: Salmon with Balsamic Sauce

Pad Thai is one of the most popular Thai dishes in America, which is why you'll find it on virtually every Thai restaurant menu.  It's a stir-fried noodle dish made with cooked egg, bean sprouts and a chopped peanut garnish. The protein can be shrimp, chicken, or tofu for a vegetarian version. In its best form it has bright fresh flavor and a variety of textures ranging from the tender noodles to crunchy bean sprouts and peanuts.  Unfortunately, quality can vary and in its worst form it's often mushy and overly sweet. I recently had a Pad Thai encounter of the worst kind so I resolved to find a recipe for my ideal version.  I discovered that many Pad Thai recipes contain tamarind which is an unusual ingredient that's both sweet and sour, plus dried shrimp (yeck).  I was therefore really happy to find a recipe from a cookbook author who has traveled extensively in Thailand.  She found a simpler and very authentic recipe she convinced the local chef in southern Thailand to give her that contains rice vinegar and lime juice instead of tamarind and no dried shrimp.  Yay!

This is an easy recipe to make but as with any stir fried dish, you should do the chopping before you start to cook because the cooking goes fast.

You might notice the recipe calls for cooking the rice noodles less than the original package may state; that's because you finish cooking the noodles with the other ingredients and the sauce.  You want to let them soak in hot water until flexible but still very firm.

As I mentioned, the protein can be chicken, shrimp, and combination of the two, or firm tofu if you want to go vegetarian.  We've been having a lot of shrimp recipes lately (the big Costco bag o'shrimp) so I decided to go with just chicken.  Regarding the spice level, I would call the recipe medium-spicy as written.  By "medium-spicy" I mean you'll notice the spiciness but it's not really hot.  Your lips will be tingling a little by the time you're done but you won't have to stop eating because of the spiciness.  If in doubt, start with a lesser amount of jalapeno and have more available at the table for people to add to their tastes.

The recipe also calls for white pepper, which is common in Asian cuisine.  I just happened to have some on hand but I wouldn't recommend going out and buying it just for the 1/8 teaspoon the recipe needs.  It has a slightly different flavor than black pepper but you'll never notice it in that small amount.

One last thought - don't worry if you don't have a wok, this recipe works just fine in a large skillet.

printable recipe
Pad Thai
Serves 2-3

Note:  As written, this recipe is moderately spicy.  You can adjust the spiciness by increasing or decreasing the amount of jalapeno you use.

6 ounces Pad Thai rice noodles
1 boneless skinless chicken breast and/or 10-12 medium shelled and deveined shrimp
1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 fresh red or green jalapeno, finely sliced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
4 green onions, sliced (white parts separated from green)
1 egg
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
1/3 cup dry roasted peanuts, chopped
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Lime wedges for serving
2 grated radishes, optional garnish

Pad Thai Sauce:
1/3 cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons rice vinegar or white vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon white pepper

Chop chicken into bite-sized pieces; toss with 1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce in a bowl and set aside.

Combine sauce ingredients together in a small bowl, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Remove from the heat and add rice noodles.  Cover and allow the noodles to soak approximately 8 minutes until flexible but still firm and undercooked.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  Set aside.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan, then add the garlic, jalapeno, ginger, and the white parts of the green onion (reserve the green tops for later).  Stir fry one minute.

Add the marinated chicken and stir fry until cooked through, about 3-4 minutes.  If using shrimp, cook for approximately 2-3 minutes until they turn pink.

Push ingredients to the side of the pan and crack an egg into the center, then stir fry quickly to scramble.  Add the noodles plus 3-4 tablespoons of the sauce.  Using two utensils, lift and turn the noodles with the other ingredients.  Continue this way, adding more sauce every minute or two, until all the sauce has been added (4-5 minutes).

Fold in the bean sprouts.  Portion out to individual plates and add a lime wedge on the side.  Top with remaining green onions, peanuts, and optional shredded radishes.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Lavash Chips, Za'atar, Hummus and Green Harissa

Last Year's Post:  Apple, Bacon and Fontina Stuffed Acorn Squash
Two Years Ago:   The Best Way to Cook Bacon

Middle Eastern food is delicious and tastes exotic with all those complex spice combinations, plus it's really healthy.  (OK, I know falafel is fried, but at least it's vegetarian which somehow makes it healthy anyway.)  Most people are familiar with pita bread and hummus, but the recipes in this post are an opportunity to broaden your horizons a little more and impress your friends by making your own chips, hummus, and condiments.

There are four different recipes:  lavash chips, za'atar, hummus and green harissa.  You can make each alone or all in combination.  I'll talk a little about each in turn.

Lavash is a soft, thin Middle Eastern flatbread.  Lucky for us, you can find packaged lavash in the deli aisle of most grocery stores.

This particular lavash is marketed primarily as a sandwich wrap, but it makes the best chips ever. Thin and crisp, they're perfect sprinkled with any type of seasoning and served with any type of dip.  They have just 3 calories per chip and are good for you with flax, oat bran and whole wheat.

Next is za'atar (zah-tahr), which is a very common Middle Eastern spice blend typically served with olive oil as a dipping sauce for soft pita or naan bread.  There are numerous variations of za'atar in different regions of the Middle East and families often have their own blend, but it typically includes several herbs mixed with toasted sesame seeds and salt.  In addition to using it in a dipping sauce, za'atar would be excellent sprinkled on roast chicken or anything grilled.  Stored in a tightly covered container, leftover spice mix will keep for at least a month or two. You can occasionally find a za'atar spice blend in a world market, but making your own allows you to customize and it's fresher.

You'll need several spices to make za'atar, the most unusual of which is sumac.  Since sumac is important to the flavor I urge you not to skip it.  You could either make an adventure out of finding your local Middle Eastern market (one of my favorite things is checking out ethnic markets) or you could buy it and every other spice you need at your local Penzeys store.  If you don't live near a Penzeys store, you can buy spices here.

The third recipe is for hummus.  Why make hummus when it's easier to peel the plastic off a tub from the store?  Freshness, the ability to customize, cost, curiosity, and pride.  It's easy with a food processor.  In addition to using hummus as a dip, it makes a great sandwich spread or breakfast spread on an English Muffin.

The final recipe is for green harissa.  You may be familiar with red harissa, a fiery hot condiment that's very trendy right now, but green harissa is entirely different.  Bright with fresh herbs, cumin and lemon, green harissa has big flavor but is not hot despite the addition of two jalapenos. You can certainly make it hotter by leaving in the seeds or adding more jalapeno if you want.

The main herbs in the harissa recipe are flat-leaf parsley and cilantro.  If you're one of those people who dislike cilantro you can substitute fresh spinach instead.  Although it's often served with couscous, I thought of using it on salmon, chicken, or lamb as a sauce when I first tasted it.  We had the leftover sauce on grilled salmon the next night and it was great.  It's kind of like a Middle Eastern version of pesto.

So, here's the way I put them all together.  First, I made lavash chips and sprinkled them with za'atar prior to baking.  The only hard part is figuring out how to cut the rectangular lavash into 32 triangular chips.  First you brush the lavash with olive oil and sprinkle with za'atar.

Next, you cut the lavash in half vertically, then cut each half vertically again to form four long strips.  Stack the strips, then cut them in half horizontally.  Cut each stack in half horizontally again so you have four stacks.  Finally, cut each stack diagonally to form 32 triangular chips.  

I would suggest serving the baked chips with separate bowls of hummus and harissa so people can decide whether they want one or both condiments.  I personally like to eat them together.  All those different herbs, spices and textures go very well together and taste very exotic.

These recipes would be great as an appetizer for your next get-together, football game, or book club meeting.  They're much more sophisticated than plain old chips and dip.  "What's that?", people will say.  "Oh", you'll reply airily, "Just some harissa, hummus and lavash chips with za'atar that I made this morning."  They'll look at you with that impressed look.

printable recipes
Lavash Chips
Makes 64 chips

Two 9-by-12-inch whole wheat lavash breads
2 tablespoons olive oil
Za’atar spice blend (below), grated Parmesan, or other spice blend of your choice

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350d.  Brush the breads with olive oil and sprinkle with the seasoning of your choice.  With the long side nearest you, cut each bread in half vertically and then cut each half vertically again to make 4 rectangular strips.  Stack the strips on top of each other, then cut the stack in half horizontally.  Cut each stack in half horizontally again to make four square-ish stacks.  Cut each stack in half diagonally to make 32 triangular chips.  Place the chips on two baking sheets in a single layer and bake until light golden, 10 to 12 minutes.  Cool.

Note:  Za’atar spice blend is traditionally served with olive oil as a dipping sauce for pita or naan bread; it’s also excellent on grilled or roasted meats, on lavash chips, or sprinkled on hummus.

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds                    1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons ground sumac                                ½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme                                       1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin                                    1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Combine all ingredients well, rubbing the dried thyme and oregano between your fingers as you add them.

Makes approximately 2 cups

One 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed         ½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup fresh lemon juice, about 1 large lemon         ½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup tahini                                                           2 to 3 tablespoons water
1 small garlic clove, minced                                    Paprika for garnish
2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine the tahini and lemon juice in a food processor and process for 1 minute.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl then process 30 additional seconds to help whip the tahini.  Add the olive oil, garlic, cumin and salt and process for 30 seconds.  Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl and process for another 30 seconds.  Add half of the chickpeas to the processor and process for 1 minute.  Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, add the remaining chickpeas and process for 1 minute until thick and smooth.  Most likely the hummus will be too thick at this point.  With the food processor running, slowly add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water until it reaches your desired consistency.  Garnish with a few dashes of paprika and some additional olive oil (if desired) when served.

Green Harissa
Makes approximately 1 ½ cups

Note:  Green harissa is excellent as a condiment with chicken, lamb, salmon, grilled vegetables, hummus, pita, or couscous.

2 tablespoons cumin seeds                                       ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon coriander seeds                                    ½ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 jalapenos, seeded and sliced                                  ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 green onions, sliced                                               ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, smashed                                    ½ teaspoon salt

Lightly toast cumin and coriander seeds in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring often until fragrant, 2-3 minutes; let cool.  Puree the seeds with all the remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. 

Harissa can be made a day or two ahead.  Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the harissa to prevent browning.  Cover and chill.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Smoked Turkey, Kale and Blue Cheese Sandwiches

Last Year's Post: Seafood Cobb Salad
Two Years Ago:  Roasted Stuffed Squash

Football Season
I think sandwiches are one of the great food inventions of all time.  There's just something so visceral about picking your food up with your hands rather than using a knife and fork - I think that's why bar food and appetizers are so popular.  I was at a wedding shower the other day that involved brunch food such as scones, muffins, and fruit.  Even though there were plates and utensils nearly everyone just picked things up with their hands to eat.  America is a nation of casual eaters.

The one danger of sandwiches is that it's easy to get in a rut, even for foodies.  I specifically wanted to make this particular sandwich because kale is not something I would normally put in a sandwich.  Kale and broccoli rabe are very popular ingredients right now, partly because they're very healthy and partly because they go so well with meat in sandwiches or sliders.  Both have slightly bitter flavors that balance meats and cheeses well.  In this particular combination, the slightly garlicky kale balances the smoked turkey and the creamy, blue cheese dressing perfectly.

I always try to mention some options for ingredient substitutions in recipes.  In this case, you could certainly vary the type of bread and the meat, but I would encourage you to stick with the kale and blue cheese dressing because they're perfect together.  You could also substitute leftover roast turkey instead of the thin-sliced deli turkey, which is a great way to use Thanksgiving leftovers.

You start by mixing the blue cheese dressing. You could also use a good quality bottled blue cheese dressing if you don't feel like making it from scratch.

Then you stem, chop and saute the kale until it's nice and tender.

To assemble the sandwiches, spread the dressing on all the bread slices and top half the slices with kale, turkey, and more kale before placing the tops on the sandwiches.

 You could choose to finish the sandwiches in a skillet, in a panini press, or not toasted at all.  This is the kind of pub food that would be great with a cold beer, a crisp dill pickle, and a great football game on TV.

printable recipe
Smoked Turkey, Kale and Blue Cheese Sandwiches
Serves 4

 Note: High-quality blue cheese salad dressing may be substituted for the first three ingredients.

1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2-3 T milk
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chicken stock
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 ounces fresh kale, stems and inner ribs discarded, leaves coarsely chopped
8 slices country white or sourdough bread
12 ounces thinly sliced smoked turkey
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature

Mash the blue cheese and mayonnaise together in a bowl to a coarse puree; season with pepper and thin with milk to desired consistency and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet; add the garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, about 30 seconds until fragrant.  Add the chicken stock and the kale.  Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook over moderate heat until the kale is tender, about 5 minutes.  Remove the lid and cook until the liquid has evaporated, about three minutes longer.  Let cool slightly.

To assemble the sandwiches:  place bread on work surface.  Divide cheese mixture between bread slices, spreading evenly.  Top four slices with half the kale, all of the turkey, and the remaining kale.  Top with the remaining bread slices, cheese side down. 
Melt one tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Spread the other tablespoon of butter over the tops of the sandwiches.  Place sandwiches in the skillet and cook until golden brown on the bottom, then carefully flip and cook the other side until golden.