25 September 2010

A chill soup for a hot day

Hot days call for cool foods, and there's not much more refreshing than this chilled mint pea soup.  Bright green, fresh hints of mint, and cooling with a dollop of creamy yogurt.

It's so funny--we're just a few days into the official fall season, and the weather finally heats up!  After a dreary and foggy summer here in Santa Barbara, I am welcoming these super-warm days with open arms, and I was so glad to have some of this soup chilling in the fridge and ready to eat.

Chilled mint pea soup doesn't take very long to make--no laborious work in the kitchen--and it can be made a couple days in advance, which is great if you want to pull it out for an easy first course when entertaining.  Enjoy it this weekend, as a part of a relaxed hot-day dinner, or serve it up as a pretty hors d'oeuvre in shot glasses for your next party!

Chilled Mint Pea Soup
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes 5 cups

1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. olive oil
1 lb. fresh or frozen peas
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup mint leaves, roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste
European-style whole milk yogurt, for serving

In a medium pot, saute onion and garlic in olive oil until softened.  Add the peas and broth and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and let simmer for 5 minutes.  (Avoid extended cooking to retain a bright green color.)  Let soup cool slightly, then add chopped mint and puree with an immersion stick blender, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.  Chill completely, and serve with a dollop of yogurt.

22 September 2010

Letting the lotus root shine

I can't get over how visually appealing lotus root slices are!  Up until last week, I'd never cooked with lotus root before, but now that I have a package of slices sitting in my refrigerator, I'm having a lot of fun figuring out different ways of using it.

Originally, I bought lotus root (conveniently pre-peeled and pre-sliced) to make the yeongeun wanja jeon that I posted about last time.  But having the lotus wrapped up in the center of the wanja jeon patty was no way to show off its beautiful pattern.

So I sliced the pieces of lotus root into 1/8-inch slices, deep-fried them until crisp and golden, and sprinkled liberally with sea-salt.  And voila, lotus root chips!

Then I needed something to go with them, and for some reason the idea of tomato jam came to mind.  The two make for a great combination: salty, crunchy chips with a soft, sweet-and-sour tomato jam.  A good-tasting, good-looking appetizer, with the lacy lotus root fanned out in display!

Lotus Root Chips

Fill a frying pan 1/2-inch deep with vegetable oil and place over medium-high heat.  Slice peeled lotus root into 1/8-inch slices.  When oil is hot enough that it crackles in contact with a test slice, add the lotus root slices and fry until golden brown.  Drain fried slices on paper toweling and sprinkle generously with sea salt while still warm.

Tomato Jam

4 Roma tomatoes, blanched, peeled, and diced, with juices
1/2 cup finely minced shallot
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1 Tbs. (packed) brown sugar
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 Tbs. sundried tomatoes (packed in olive oil), minced

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Cook uncovered over high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the bottom from burning, until jam reduces to about 1 1/4 cups.

18 September 2010

A tasty nibble: lotus root and beef banchan


A number of weeks ago, while researching recipes for doenjang jjigae, I was invited into the back room of my local Korean market where the proprietress was busy preparing banchan for dinner.  On her work table sat a large bowl full of a ground meat mixture, dotted with bits of green, and another large bowl holding lacey white slices of lotus root.

Knowing my curiosity to learn about Korean cooking, this nice lady explained that the meat mixture was ground beef, sesame leaves, garlic, and onion.  She then showed me how she was forming patties, pressing a bit of the beef mixture onto each side of a lotus root.  The patties would be dredged in flour and then dipped in egg before being fried, she informed me.  It sounded tasty, and the lotus root slices, packaged between the seasoned ground beef, seemed like such a cute idea!

For the western palate, this banchan, or side dish, would seem to be channeling shepherd's pie, with the potato-like lotus root enveloped in a meaty layer.  It's just re-constructed on a whole new level of inspiration, with the minty sesame leaves and unique texture of the lotus root giving it a decidedly Korean twist.  It's great as one of many banchan at a traditional Korean meal, but it would be equally delicious as an appetizer for a western-style meal or cocktail party!  (I confess, I've even had a couple for breakfast dipped in ketchup.  Yum!)  Perfect finger food, these little patties can be served both warm and at room temperature.

I never found out from my ajumma what this side dish is called, but based on my research, I figure yeongeun wanja jeon ("lotus root wanja jeon") should describe it appropriately.  (However, if I have any Korean readers here, would you recommend a better name?)  Also, she didn't give me any recipe other than a list of the basic ingredients and vague descriptions of the preparation method, so what I'll be sharing with you today is my interpretation of what was going on there in that Korean kitchen!

Before I send you on to the recipe, I want to leave you with a couple notes on the ingredients.  Lotus root, starchy and reminiscent of potato, contains tannins which render it slightly bitter when raw.  And even after cooking, the texture firms up quite considerably if refrigerated, so I recommend either serving this within a few hours of frying or making sure to thoroughly re-heat the wanja jeon if they've been stored in the fridge for any amount of time.  The sesame leaves (also known as perilla leaves) were something I'd never cooked with before, and they have a delightful mint-like flavor.  They can be eaten raw, as part of the lettuce wrapping for ssam, or chopped up and incorporated with cooked foods.  And with their heart-shape and serrated edges, the leaves also make a beautiful backdrop on serving plates.


Korean Lotus Root Beef Patties
(Yeongeun Wanja Jeon, 연근 완자전)
Makes 16

½ lb. peeled lotus root, sliced ¼-inch thick (16 slices)
Scant 1 lb. (420 g) ground beef
4 cloves garlic
¼ cup finely chopped wild sesame leaves (perilla)
1 green onion, thinly sliced
½ tsp. sea salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
½ cup flour, for dredging
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Vegetable oil, for frying

Dipping sauce
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tsp. rice vinegar
1 green onion (green parts only), thinly sliced
¼ tsp. superfine sugar

Bring a pot of salted water to a full boil, then add the sliced lotus root and cook at a boil for 5 minutes.  Drain and rinse with cool water.

While lotus root is cooling, place the ground beef in a large bowl; then, using a garlic press, mince the cloves of garlic over the beef to collect both the solids and the juices in the mixing bowl.  Add the sesame leaves, onion, salt, and pepper, and combine gently but thoroughly.


Take a slice of lotus root and pat a scant tablespoon of the meat mixture until it fills the holes in the root, then turn the slice over and press a little more meat on the second side.  Repeat with remaining lotus root slices.

Dredge each patty in flour, shaking off excess flour.  Heat ¼ cup oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Dip meat patties into beaten egg, to coat, and place in hot oil.  Cook 5 minutes on each side until golden brown, then transfer to paper towels to drain oil.  Serve with dipping sauce.


09 September 2010

Playing with Pears

Our pear tree harvest is in, and there are oodles of pears in sacks around the house, in the fridge, on the counter.  I've been playing around with the pears and have decided that I love pear sauce way more than apple sauce.

With the presence of pears crowding on my consciousness, a lingering memory of a totally luscious, soft and fluffy almond "cakelet" with fresh pear (Pere alla Finanziera) from Trattoria Grappolo has gradually blossomed, and I've decided that I need to figure out a good recipe of my own for this wonderful dessert.

My first attempt, alas, didn't quite hit the mark, but the cakelets sure turned out looking pretty cute.  But until I can translate my vision into reality, I won't be posting a recipe for it just yet.  I do have some quality control around here!

But for now, let me recommend making Pear Sauce.  Thick and bursting with the essence of pear, this is a ridiculously simple and delicious way of using your pears.  And once you have the sauce, you're only limited by your imagination as to how to best enjoy it!  As you can see here, I topped each of my finanziere with a spoonful of the sauce for some extra pear flavor.

To make the sauce, place 4 cups (peeled and cubed) fresh pear and 1/2 cup water in a medium-sized pot.  Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the pears are soft.  Gently mash pears in the pot with a slotted spoon or immersion stick blender.  (I like to keep some of the pear chunks intact, but you can blend it as smooth as you like.)  Increase heat slightly and continue to cook sauce at a vigorous simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until it has reduced to 2 cups.

Use as a topping for yogurt or on ice cream, bake it in a tart shell , mix it into muffins, use as a marinade or glaze for meat, or enjoy it just as is!  Pure fruit, so tasty and so good for you!

But, I do want me some Pere alla Finanziera.  Anybody happen to have a tried-and-true recipe?