Friday, August 25, 2017

Spicy Pork and Noodles with Herbs

Last Year's Post: Coconut Curry Rice
Two Years Ago:   Summer Harvest Quiche

There are two ways you can go at this recipe.  You can treat it as an adventure and an excuse to visit your local Asian market, or you can use the ingredients you have on hand or can find at your regular grocery store.  I was particularly intrigued by the casual mention at the very end of the recipe about serving the chile oil and chile oil solids on the side at the table.  Chile oil solids?  Not in any brand I've ever purchased at my local grocery store. Happily, we have wonderful and extensive Asian markets in Phoenix so I took a trip and found not only the specific chile oil the recipe calls for, but even the Sichuan preserved vegetables (they're actually pickled mustard greens).

I asked the guy at the checkout counter if he'd ever had the chile oil because it looks like it could be fiery.  He just nodded and smiled and as I left he said, "be careful with that one".  Ohkaaaay.  I took that advice seriously and only added a little chile oil at the table (with said solids) and it was plenty for me.  But it wasn't as explosively hot as I expected.

If you want to go the other route, skip the preserved vegetables (truth be told, I couldn't really taste them anyway) and use a chile oil from the Asian aisle of your local grocery store. You could even use Sriracha or another hot sauce to give it some spice if you don't want to buy chile oil at all.

This is a very easy recipe to prepare and can be served hot or at room temperature.  The important part, however, is to make sure the pork mixture becomes browned and crispy because the texture is very appealing with the noodles, herbs, radishes and peanuts.  I debated long and hard whether to substitute ground turkey for the ground pork, which I would normally do to cut down on fat and calories, but decided for the sake of authenticity to go with the pork.  Although the pork was very good, I think you could substitute ground turkey or chicken without too much change in flavor as long as you make sure to brown the meat until it's crisp.

Spicy Pork and Noodles with Herbs
Serves 4

1 pound thin, round rice noodles (or other thin noodles)
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon black vinegar
1 tablespoon chile oil (like Lao Gan Ma brand)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon canola or other neutral oil
½ pound ground pork
1 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 1-inch piece ginger, chopped
2 scallions, light parts chopped, green parts reserved for garnish
1 tablespoon yacai (Sichuan preserved vegetables, optional)
 Handful of herbs like mint, basil and cilantro leaves, washed
¼ cup salted, roasted peanuts, chopped
4 radishes, sliced

Bring a large pot of water to boil, and cook noodles according to instructions. Drain noodles while running under cold water, until they are cool to the touch. Toss with sesame oil to avoid sticking.  Set aside. Mix dressing by whisking rice vinegar, soy sauce, black vinegar, chile oil and sugar until sugar dissolves. Set aside.

Cook the pork topping: Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat, and add ground pork and salt. Pan-fry, breaking meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until no pink parts and no liquid remain in the pan, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger and scallion whites, and stir occasionally until the raw smell has disappeared and the meat is starting to brown in places, about 5 minutes. Add the vegetables, if using, along with a tablespoon of water, and cook for 2 or 3 minutes more, or until mixture is darkened and thick.  (The pork should be browned and crispy.)

Divide noodles between four individual bowls, and top each with a tablespoon of vinegar dressing followed by a pile of ground pork, herbs, peanuts and radishes. Serve with additional chile oil and chile-oil solids, on the side.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Grilled Spiced Salmon with Corn Relish

Last Year's Post: Mexican Chicken Pasta
Two Years Ago:   Roasted Tomato Californian

It's corn season, and this is a fun and different way to use fresh corn.  Almost nothing says "summer" more than grilling so celebrate the end of summer and the fleeting corn season with a healthy and delicious salmon and corn dinner.

I made fairly drastic changes to a recipe I found in the New York Times that featured halibut, but I'm sure the halibut would be equally good.  Their recipe called for pre-cooked corn which made no sense if you're going to be grilling anyway, does it?  If it's not corn season, just use frozen thawed corn - Trade Joes even has a bag of frozen roasted corn with nice char marks already on it that would be perfect.

Note that the recipe says to marinate the fish with spices for up to 3 hours, although I'm not sure why.  I think you could skip that step and go directly from rubbing on the spice mix to the grill, letting the fish sit and marinate on the side while you grill the corn.

Regarding the spices, they're fairly potent so use your discretion regarding how much to add to the salmon and how much to add to the corn relish.  I preferred a light hand with the spices so I could taste them more as a background note to the fresh salmon and corn. If you really like the spices in Indian food, by all means increase the amount.  Just remember you can always add more later but you can't take some out.

The yogurt might seem like an unusual addition but the neutral creaminess goes really well with the spices and the rich salmon.  If you skip (or shorten) the marinating step, this is a really easy weeknight dinner.  Start the grill, rub the spices on the salmon, then start some rice.  Grill the corn, then put the salmon on the grill while you (or a helpful friend) make the corn relish.  Start to finish, I would say this shouldn't take any longer than about 45 minutes.

Grilled Spiced Salmon with Corn Relish
Serves 4

2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground fennel seeds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 salmon fillets, 5-6 ounces each
2 lemons (1 juiced and 1 quartered)
1 large or 1 small ears fresh corn, shucked (about 2 cups of kernels)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves plus more for garnish
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt or sour cream
Hot cooked rice

Combine cumin, coriander, fennel, ½ teaspoon black pepper and ½ teaspoon salt.  Rub salmon fillets with juice of ½ lemon, then sprinkle on some of the spice mix (light to medium as preferred), leaving at least 2 teaspoons spice mix for the corn relish.  Rub the spice mix in, then refrigerate the salmon for up to 3 hours.

Preheat a grill to medium-high.  Brush the ears of corn with the vegetable oil, then grill for 2 minutes per each of 4 sides until grill-marked and tender.  Remove and let cool.

Place the salmon fillets on the grill skin side down for about 5 minutes, then carefully flip with a spatula (the skin should come right off).  Grill another 3-4 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 140d.  Remove and let rest for 5 minutes.

While the salmon is grilling, prepare the corn relish:  stand the ears of corn upright and cut the kernels off the cobs.  Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet, then add the chopped onion and sauté until tender.  Stir in 1-2 teaspoons spice mix (depending on preference) and sauté, stirring, until you can smell the spices.  Add corn kernels and the juice of ½ lemon.  Cook briefly to heat through, then add the cilantro and stir to combine.

To serve, place some rice on each plate.  Top with a salmon fillet and corn relish.  Add a dollop of yogurt or sour cream on the side and garnish with a lemon wedge and cilantro sprig.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Chicken Paillards

Last Year's Post:  Spanish Omelet
Two Years Ago:   Cold Sesame Noodles with Cucumber

Paillard (pie-yar) is just a fancy term for a chicken or veal cutlet that's been pounded until it's thin and then grilled or sauted.  It's often cooked in a skillet with the pan drippings used to make a sauce, but I like this particular recipe because it's healthier - the additional flavor comes from seasonings, greens and a mustardy vinaigrette instead of a butter sauce.  It's a very quick, elegant and healthy weeknight dinner.

My inspiration for making it this week was the container of baby kale that I found at the grocery store.  Baby kale?  Totally cute, ridiculously healthy, tender and delicious.  If you can find it, try it, but if you can't, use arugula for a similar tender-yet-slightly-bitter taste.

All you have to do is toast some nuts, gently pound the chicken, make the vinaigrette, cook the chicken for about 4 minutes, and toss the greens.  I think it took less than 30 minutes from start to finish.

One last note about pine nuts:  I added them here because I thought they would go perfectly, and they did.  However, there must be a worldwide pine nut shortage because they're expensive and hard to find at the moment, so feel free to substitute toasted almonds or walnuts.

Chicken Paillards
Serves 4

2 large or 4 small boneless skinless chicken breast halves
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Garlic powder
Grated zest and juice of ½ lemon
½ teaspoon grainy mustard
8 cups baby kale, baby arugula, or mixed greens
Shaved parmesan cheese
½ cup toasted pine nuts

To make the dressing, whisk the lemon zest and juice, mustard, and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a bowl until combined (or shake in a small jar).  Season with salt and pepper to taste; set aside.

Preheat a grill pan, outdoor grill, or large nonstick pan to medium high.

If using large chicken breasts, cut each in half horizontally to make two cutlets.  Place the chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound gently using a meat hammer until each is an even thickness and quite thin – about ¼”.  Remove the chicken pieces from the plastic and drizzle them with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, massaging it into both sides with your hands.  Sprinkle both sides with salt, pepper and garlic powder.

If using a nonstick pan, coat lightly with oil.  Grill or sauté the chicken pieces for 2-3 minutes per side until cooked through.  Place on individual plates

Combine the greens with just enough dressing to coat lightly, then mound on top of the chicken.  Top with parmesan shavings, toasted pine nuts and additional freshly ground black pepper.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Zucchini Parmesan

Last Year's Post:  Savory Kale and Corn Galette
Two Years Ago:    Spanish Shrimp

It's summer, which means fresh tomatoes and zucchini are everywhere.  If you have a garden or made a recent trip to the farmer's market this is a perfect way to use some of them up.  I recently made a similar recipe for zucchini roll-ups stuffed with ricotta and topped with a tomato sauce that was very good but pretty fussy and time-consuming so the idea of simply layering the zucchini, cheese and sauce was appealing.

The original recipe didn't have ricotta cheese, which made it a nice light side dish.  Adding the ricotta makes it a satisfying vegetarian entree. It's your choice either way.

If you don't have a bunch of fresh tomatoes, you could always used good quality canned tomatoes.  To make it even easier,  you could buy a marinara sauce at the store.

First you thinly slice the zucchini, then bake until tender. Layer the zucchini, sauce, and ricotta mixture (if using) with Parmesan and bake.  I wanted to use a pretty oval baking dish for the pictures, but couldn't quite figure out how to layer the rectangular zucchini slices in an oval dish.  Next time I think I'll just bake more zucchini and overlap them every which way, if that makes sense.

This is not only healthy, but truly delicious.

Zucchini Parmesan
Serves 6

For the tomato sauce:
2 to 2 ½ pounds fresh ripe tomatoes
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped 
2-4 garlic cloves, to taste
Salt and pepper
1/8 teaspoon sugar
2 sprigs fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

For the zucchini parmesan:
2 to 2 ½ pounds zucchini
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 egg yolks
2 garlic cloves, grated
3-4 sprigs fresh basil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. 

Line 2 sheet pans with parchment.  Trim ends off zucchini and cut in half crosswise, then cut into thin lengthwise slices about ¼ to 1/3” thick.  Season both sides with salt and pepper and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Arrange zucchini slices on baking sheets in a single layer and sprinkle with red pepper flakes.  Roast for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned and tender.  Remove and let cool.  Reduce oven to 375d.

While the zucchini cooks and cool, make the sauce:  if you have a food mill, quarter the tomatoes.  If not, peel, seed and chop them.  Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and add onion.  Cook, stirring often until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar and basil sprigs.  Increase heat to medium-high.  When tomatoes are bubbling briskly, stir and reduce heat to medium.  Cook, stirring often, until tomatoes have cooked down and are beginning to stick to the pan, 15-25 minutes.  Remove basil sprigs; taste and adjust seasonings.  If using a food mill, put sauce through medium blade.  If not, pulse sauce in a food processor until just coarsely pureed.  Stir in chopped basil.

To assemble and bake:  place the ricotta, egg yolks, grated garlic and basil in a small food processor and pulse to combine.  Set aside. Oil a 2-quart dish with olive oil or nonstick spray. Spread ¼ cup tomato sauce over the bottom of the dish.  Arrange a third of the zucchini slices in an even layer over the tomato sauce.  Spoon a third of the remaining sauce over the zucchini and sprinkle with ¼ cup Parmesan.  Repeat one additional layer, then spread the ricotta mixture evenly over the second layer.  Add one more layer of zucchini, sauce and Parmesan.  Drizzle on the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. 

Bake 30-35 minutes until bubbling and browned.  Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.