02 May 2015

Sprouted Lentil Burgers on Yogurt & Green Sauce

I've had so much fun getting back into cooking! Not only do I have my familiar kitchen tools around me again, but I also have appreciative family members around me that make the effort worth it. Last night, I experimented with this recipe from San Francisco's Bar Tartine for Lentil Croquettes with Watercress and Kefir, published in Bon Appetit's April 2015 issue. Uncertain of how it would go over with my parents, I hedged and presented it as a first course before the actual dinner. But it actually turned out to be such a hit that we ended up making it the main part of our meal!

At first glance, the original recipe sounded not only delicious and healthy, but also absolutely intriguing, with a medley of fascinating ingredients combined in ways I hadn't thought of before. The problem was, however, that the ingredient list and prep steps seemed just a tad too extensive to make this immediately accessible for the home cook. Though I have many types of whole seeds on hand, I just didn't have whole caraway seeds. Then there were items that I've never cooked with. Onion powder? Nope. Pomegranate molasses? No again. Watercress? Couldn't find it in my local stores. I also don't happen to have a spice mill, and I never feel like shallow-frying is worth the inevitable clean-up of oil spatters afterwards. So, I made a bunch of substitutions in both ingredients and method, and I discovered this is a pretty forgiving recipe.

One thing I did indulge in was to make the sprouted lentils at home. You can find sprouted lentils in many produce stores and farmers' markets these days, but actually it is quite easy to do at home. I sprouted 3/4 cup dry lentils in a 1-quart mason jar, ending up with about 3 cups of sprouted lentils after 2 days. First, wash your lentils and remove any debris. Then cover your lentils with about 3x volume of water and let sit 12 hours. Drain and wash lentils (a fine-mesh sieve held against the mouth of the jar helps to keep the lentils in the jar), cover loosely (cheese cloth or mesh works well--anything to allow breathing but to keep dust out is great), and let sit at room temperature out of direct sunlight for about 2 days, washing and draining well every 12 hours. When sprouts are of desired length, store lentils in the refrigerator and use within a few days. Besides this recipe, sprouted lentils are fantastic in salads or just as a snack as-is!

This dish is such a tasty and fun combination of flavors, colors, and textures, that I am keeping the recipe to make again.

Sprouted Lentil Burgers with Yogurt & Green Sauces
Adapted from Bar Tartine's recipe
Makes 6 appetizers or 3 more substantial servings

Yogurt Sauce
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tsp. agave syrup (or honey)

Green Sauce
2 cups baby greens
1 tsp. coriander powder
1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable broth (tip: I used Trader Joe's liquid concentrate)
1/2 tsp. salt

Lentil Burgers
4 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 slice of whole wheat toast bread, torn into small pieces
2 Tbs. goat cheese
1 Tbs. Greek yogurt
2 cups sprouted lentils
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. salt
Olive oil (for cooking)
Baby greens (for garnish)

Yogurt Sauce: Stir yogurt and agave syrup with a little water to loosen; set aside.

Green Sauce: Combine all ingredients in the large bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer sauce to another container and set aside. (No need to clean out food processor--it can be used as-is for the next step.)

Lentil Burgers: Heat a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat; add cut scallions and cook until blistered and charred, turning occasionally. Reserve pan.

Process scallions along with all remaining burger ingredients (except for the oil and garnish) until a paste forms. (Note: I was worried by how loose and moist the paste appeared to me, but the cooking process will dry out the paste and the burgers will actually hold their shape and flip well. In fact, I found that in the end the patties turned out on the dry side, but that was perfect for sopping up the juicy green sauce and complemented well by the creamy yogurt sauce....yum!)

Heat the non-stick pan over medium-high heat once more and lightly brush with olive oil. When pan is sizzling (a drop of water dances), portion out the sprouted lentil mixture as desired, smoothing to form patties. (I divided my batch into 6 patties, cooking 3 at a time in the pan.) Cook until edges begin to show a toasty golden brown, then flip, cooking the second side. Patties may be served warm, but they are delicious at room temperature as well.

To serve: Plate swirls of the yogurt and green sauces in shallow bowls. Top with sprouted lentil patty and garnish with greens.

27 April 2015

Oisobagi (오이 소박이): Stuffed Cucumbers Kimchi

Kimchi. Some people are wild fans, whereas others...let's say they just don't realize it, but one day they will love it! It has a deep and pungent flavor and is often (but not always) spicy, qualities that make it so addictive. Chances are, most Americans have tried the traditional Napa cabbage kimchi if they've had kimchi at all before, but there is an endless number of delicious varieties like daikon kimchis, radish-tops kimchis, green onion kimchis, and the cucumber kimchis I'm showing you here.  And like any country's beloved dish, the recipes for each of these styles vary from region to region and household to household.

This version, in which small cucumbers are stuffed with Korean red pepper and vegetables, is called oisobagi (오이 소박이). Flavorful and refreshing, it goes well with simple soups and porridges, or as one of many side dishes in a larger meal setting. Start by cutting and salting the cucumbers, and as the water is drawn from them, prepare the delicious stuffing of carrots, green onions, and Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru).


Traditional oisobagi uses a combination of green onions and buchu (a Korean herb like chives but much more delicately flavored), but lacking buchu, substitute with more green onions.

There are so many ways to enjoy kimchi. Korean style, it could be served in combination with any of your favorite Korean side dishes, or (especially with the cabbage variety) chopped up and incorporated into fried rice, as a part of a stew (great use for more aged kimchi!), or simply over a bowl of steamed white rice. Or try incorporating it into Western dishes. These oisobagi, for example, when chopped, would be a great new topping to try out on hotdogs or hamburgers--think a spicy cross of pickle and sauerkraut!

Oisobagi 오이 소박이 Stuffed Cucumbers Kimchi

2 lbs. small seedless cucumbers (about 12)
2 Tbs. koshering or coarse grained salt
½ cup shredded/julienned carrot
2 cups buchu (Korean chives) or green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces and shredded
¼ cup fish sauce
½ cup Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru)
1 ½ Tbs. (2 cloves) minced garlic
1 tsp. finely grated fresh ginger
1 Tbs. sugar

Wash cucumbers and cut cross-wise slits down the length of the cucumbers, leaving sections attached at one end of the cucumber. Rub all surfaces of the cut cucumbers with salt and let drain 30 minutes. Thoroughly rinse off salt from the cucumbers under running water and drain cucumbers well, patting dry.

Mix together the fish sauce, gochugaru, garlic, ginger, and sugar to form a paste, then stir in the carrots and green onions. Working with gloved hands (to avoid staining them with the pepper paste), stuff each cucumber with some of the filling. Enjoy right away or store away in an airtight container, refrigerated, for later use. When serving, you might want to cut each cucumbers cross-wise once or twice with kitchen scissors to make smaller pieces.

19 April 2015

Couscous Tabbouleh Salad

As I ease back into life in Santa Barbara, I'm inspired daily--by the natural beauty of this place, the beckoning hiking trails, the sunshine, and the fresh air--to get out and be active and seek out healthier eating habits. And as springtime warms up, I'm definitely craving flavorful and fresh food that satisfies but requires minimal effort.

This tabbouleh fits right in. Using chewy pearls of Israeli couscous instead of the traditional bulgur, it's a delight for the tastebuds and a breeze to make. You'll love eating this as a refreshing side dish to juicy grilled steaks, sausages, chicken, or fish, or simply as a vegetarian main dish all on its own.

Based mostly on veggies and protein-rich legumes, this salad is oh-so-good for you. And it's a great dish to make ahead! Munching on leftovers the next day, the flavors had melded, and it was so delicious to tuck in spoonful after spoonful. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Couscous Tabbouleh Salad
Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main

1/2 cup dry Israeli couscous
1 cup (packed) shredded cabbage
1 cup (packed) finely chopped Italian parsley
1/2 cup (packed) fresh mint leaves, roughly torn
1 cup shelled edamame
2 Tbs. minced Spanish (or red) onion
3 medium tomatoes, diced
Salt and pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil to taste

Cook the couscous according to package directions, then let cool to room temperature. Once cooled, gently combine the couscous with the cabbage, herbs, edamame, onion, and tomato (along with any tomato juice released during dicing). Season to taste with salt and pepper and a few dashes of lemon juice and olive oil. Serve at room temperature.

Can be made 1 day ahead; gently stir to redistribute any collected juices before serving.

14 April 2015

Introducing 蓮霧, or Wax Apples

Exactly a year ago, I was in Taiwan with my brother and a group of friends, enjoying a week's vacation together in one of my favorite spots on Earth. The warm spring weather was perfect for all of our site-seeing in and around Taipei, including an excursion out to Danshui, touring the geopark at Yehliu, indulging in Beitou's hot springs, hiking up Elephant Mountain, and visiting the National Palace Museum. And, we ate and ate and ate...from delicious restaurant fare, like Din Tai Fung's xiǎo lóngbāo (soup dumplings) and a seafood feast in Yehliu, to more humble but still crazy-delicious street food like Hot Star's giant crispy fried chicken, ô-á-chian (oyster omelet), niú ròumiàn (beef and noodle soup) and, even, Seven-Eleven's Hokkaido milk soft serve ice cream. (Sigh, now that was some soft serve!)

The cuisine of Taiwan is incomparable, and so is the fresh produce! I think it's no secret that my favorite fruits of Taiwan are the super sweet mango as well as the crisp and delicately-flavored wax apple, called , that is, lián. Despite the name, this fruit is actually a part of the myrtle tree family Myrtaceae. And, it so happens that the Eugenia hedges so popular for landscaping in my hometown and indeed, surrounding my own front yard, also belong to this family of plants! When I was a little girl, I loved going out into the garden and collecting and nibbling on the little oval, purply-red Eugenia berries. They were so juicy and tart, with a lovely flavor unlike any other fruit I knew, I just couldn't keep away from them (though my parents would schimpf me about it).

So when I first had lián in Taiwan (was it just cut up in a bag with toothpicks at a night market one evening?), it was with great surprise that I realized it was the same taste as from my childhood! It made sense: the lián fruits, though significantly larger, seedless, and more pear-shaped than Eugenia berries, do have blossom ends of similar appearance and that same great taste.

The texture is actually not nearly as dense as that of a traditional apple, yet it's still crispy and juicy without being spongy. It's really a delicate fruit, so unfortunately lián is not so easy to find outside of its growing districts. If you ever have a chance to go to Taiwan or southeast Asia, this is a must-eat! The good news for those of us stuck in California for now, though, is that there is at least one farmer in southern California working on establishing lián here on the West Coast. I am fervently hoping for his success and that we'll all soon be able to enjoy these goodies Stateside.

07 April 2015

Gosari Namul (Seasoned Fernbracken)

One of my all-time favorite Korean side dishes is gosari namul (고사리 나물), or Seasoned Fernbracken. It's something I could just keep nibbling on all throughout a meal, and it's the special ingredient that makes a bibimbap complete for me. Made from young fern shoots, this side dish has a deep savory flavor and delightful texture (perhaps likened to that of very thin asparagus) thanks to the traditional method of using young fern shoots that have been dried, rehydrated, and then simmered in soy sauce and other seasonings.

Though the modern food trend is to focus on fresh ingredients straight from the farm or garden, the technique of drying fernbracken--obviously a necessary method of food storage long ago--wonderfully transforms the flavor and texture of the young shoots. I sometimes wonder if drying/rehydrating might not deserve more consideration in our battery of culinary techniques today.

Namuls, a popular side dish (banchan, 반찬) in Korean meals, consist of some type of blanched vegetable seasoned simply with minced garlic, salt, and sesame oil. Besides gosari namul, classic namuls are also made with sigeumchi (spinach), kong (soybean sprouts), and other vegetables, and they are all fairly typical components of bibimbap. Though it might sound a bit exotic, the good news is that gosari namul is pretty easy to make, and you can find dried gosari in most any Korean market or purchase it online.

My Korean friends each have their own recipes, with the ingredient list varying slightly. I've made this particular recipe using dried anchovies and garlic to improve the depth of flavor, and I've gotten rave reviews from Koreans and non-Koreans alike.

If you're not planning on making a full-on multi-course Korean meal or bibimbap, of which this namul would be just a small component, there are still many ways to enjoy it! Try making a simple rice bowl with the gosari namul, sauteed greens, and a fried egg, or use it as an ingredient in kimbap and sushi rolls. Or, try mixing it up in a fusion meal, for example substituting it for sauteed mushrooms as an accompaniment to your next steak or pasta dish! What other ways do you like to eat gosari namul?


Gosari Namul

4 oz. (115 g) dried gosari (건 고사리)
6 small dried anchovies (마른 멸치), heads & black innards removed
6 Tbs. Korean soy sauce (간장)
3 large cloves garlic (마늘), minced
1 Tbs. roasted sesame oil (참기름)

Place the dried gosari in a 4 quart pot and fill pot with water.  Cover pot and bring to a boil and boil for a few minutes, then turn off heat and let gosari soak for a few hours.  At this point you will have about 750 g (1 ½ pounds) of rehydrated gosari.  Drain gosari, then cut into 3 to 4-inch long pieces and set aside.

Place 6 anchovies and 2 cups water in the pot and boil until reduced to ½ cup of liquid.  Discard anchovies.  Reduce heat and add the Korean soy sauce, minced garlic, and sesame oil.  Next, add the rehydrated gosari and simmer the mixture for about 10 minutes, gently mixing to combine all ingredients thoroughly and to allow the flavors to blend.  Cool gosari and serve as a side dish or as a delicious component to bibimbap.

01 April 2015

Springtime Salad and Happy Easter!

Having been living in Korea and traipsing to, from, and around East Asia for nearly the past three years, it feels really good to be at rest in Santa Barbara among family for Holy Week this year. It's the kind of restful feeling where your heart squeezes with gladness and then peace unfurls down to your fingertips and toes.

During this time, I've enjoyed some glorious music, from performances by the London Symphony Orchestra and Gil Shaham in Santa Barbara's own Granada Theater, to my mother simply practicing on her violin at home. I've also been indulging in homey little tasks like pulling weeds and trimming our lavender shrubs, tidying the linen drawer, moving a pile of rocks for the garden wall my father is building, cleaning the coffee maker, and finally working up the resolve to toss notebooks and course readers stashed away since my undergrad years. Now and then, I step outside, barefoot, to pick kumquats from the back patio for a quick snack. Or I head out front to check on the progress our roses are making. Or I head out for a walk in the foothills, with all of Santa Barbara spread out below me, the waters of the Channel glittering and sparkling in the distance, islands on the horizon, fresh air filling my lungs, and the fragrance of the chaparral reminding me how good it is to be alive.

Fresh herbs and salad greens in abundance and variety is something I'd taken for granted growing up in California. And as much as I was fascinated by the greens and mountain vegetables of Korea, I sure have been missing the flavors and textures of home. So this salad is all that I could possibly want this Spring: crisp, flavorful lettuces and fresh garden herbs, topped with juicy chunks of rosemary-roasted salmon and sprouted lentils and peas.

Rediscovering and experiencing once again the many joys of life that I'd left behind me in California has been a precious gift. And yet this pales in comparison with the even greater gift we get to celebrate this Easter season. Happy Easter, dear readers!

06 March 2014

Roasted Basil Brown Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes

This was my lunch today.  Super simple, gorgeous, and delicious.

I realize I haven't posted here much, and pulling out my camera, snapping what I pulled out of the oven, and sharing it here with you sure is a delight.  I miss blogging here so much.

Life has been busy that usually I just throw something random together for dinner at the end of the day.  I feel I rarely have something homemade from my kitchen that's blogworthy anymore, and even more rarely do I have a chance to capture it in photos using beautiful natural light.  But today it worked out, and I'm thrilled to share these easy brown rice-stuffed tomatoes with you, scented with onion and basil and roasted to perfection.

The rice peeking out from under the tomato caps got nice and crispy while roasting in the hot oven, while the interior developed a fantastic creaminess reminiscent of risotto.

With fresh tomatoes quite the luxury in winter, and in Korea, period (after all, it's a fruit! and fruit is expensive here!), this lunch was a bit of an indulgence, but it also was a creative way for me to use up some leftover brown rice that I'd cooked a few days before.

Let me share with you my (approximate) recipe!

Roasted Basil Brown Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes
Makes 2-4 servings

4 medium-large tomatoes
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked sprouted brown rice
1 teaspoon dried basil flakes

1/2 teaspoon salt (or more, to taste)
Freshly-ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 180C (350F).

Cut caps off the top of the tomatoes and scoop out the centers to create tomato "cups," saving all the juices and flesh in a bowl.  Chop up any of the larger pieces of flesh into fine dice.  Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper into the tomato cups and set aside.

Over medium heat, sweat the onions for about 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.  Add the rice, tomato flesh and juices, basil, salt and pepper to taste, stirring to combine thoroughly.  Bring to a gentle boil and cook 5-10 minutes, stirring, until juices are mostly absorbed (if your tomatoes weren't super juicy, add a few tablespoons of water during cooking to help the seasonings to distribute and meld with the rice).

Divide the rice mixture between the tomato cups, pressing lightly to compact the filling and mounding it high on each tomato.  Top with the tomato caps and roast in the preheated oven for about 1 hour, until tomatoes are meltingly tender and the edges of the rice become golden and crispy.  Serve warm.