30 April 2011

Waste not, want not

I've been hearing how "spicy" is the food trend of the year, and that is good news to me!  For some reason the more satisfying meals I've been eating these days are the ones that have a strong heat component, be it a Mexican salsa, an Italian vegetable soup, or a dish of kimchi.  And when it comes to heat, the Koreans know how to do it--stews served at the table still boiling hot, deep and richly red from the incomparable gochugaru chili powder.

So, with an eye on the latest food fashions (haha no, just kidding, I really just wanted to use up some leftovers and eat something spicy), I threw this stew together the other day.  It's based on kimchi jjigae, or kimchi stew, in which very old, fermented kimchi gets used up in a delicious way.  I didn’t have leftover kimchi, but I did have a whole lot of leftover kimchi juice and kkakdugi juice that I wanted to use somehow (remember how earlier I told you to save those juices?  Waste not, want not!).  This recipe is flexible—you can obviously use leftover cabbage kimchi instead of the fresh green cabbage, and you could even throw in old kkakdugi instead of the fresh mu (Korean daikon) if you wanted to.  Use your favorite meat, or whatever leftovers you have on hand.  This is a simple soup, it's basic home-cooking, and it should be a no-stress, easy-to-make meal.  And it’s SO tasty!

Spicy Kimchi Juice Jjigae
Makes 2-4 Servings

1 cup Korean daikon (mu, ), thinly sliced and cut into 1-2 –inch pieces
1 ½ cups green cabbage, cut into 1-2 –inch pieces
3 green onions, roughly cut into 1-2 –inch pieces (reserve a handful  of the green ends for garnish)
1 ½ cups kimchi/kkakdugi juice
½ cup water
¼ cup shredded roasted pork
1 ½ cups firm tofu, cut in ½-inch dice
1 tsp. sesame oil

Place all ingredients except for the tofu and oil in a pot and cover with lid.  Bring to a boil, then add the tofu and drizzle with the sesame oil. Cook 5 minutes more, until tofu is thoroughly heated through and cabbage has softened.

Garnish with reserved green onions and serve boiling hot.  Add a scoop of 4-grain rice to your bowl of stew and enjoy!

24 April 2011

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter everyone!  This morning I could not help but be overwhelmed with a sense of joy and gratefulness as I sat in church and heard beautiful music mingled with messages of encouragement.  Today in my family, we're celebrating our hope and new life with an Italian Torta di Pasqua that my mother made.  It's a simple paste crust filled with sauteed swiss chard, shallots, and ricotta, and a few whole eggs nestled inside.  Perfect for brunch or as an appetizer for Easter dinner, I know I'll be making this myself for Easters to come.

Peace to you all,

P.S. While my mom doesn't have an exact recipe for this Torta di Pasqua, I noted a few details about her process: Line a 10-inch spring-form pan with pastry crust leaving edges overhanging.  Sauté 4 lbs. chopped swiss chard and 1 minced shallot, then cool and mix together with 1 lb. ricotta, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1 egg, and salt and pepper to taste.  Fill crust with chard mixture, then make 5 deep wells.  Slip a whole, raw egg into each of the 5 wells.  Cover filling with with another sheet of pastry dough, then fold overhanging edges over.  Bake 1 hour at 375 F and let cool before slicing.

18 April 2011

Purple and paradigm-shifting

Hello?  Oh, hi!  Just was yearning for some inspiration...and starting to feel lonely as my favorite blogs haven't been updated in a while.  Then I realized I'm a bit guilty myself, so hi! here's another post from me!  What have you been up to in the kitchen lately?  Leave me a comment--I'd love hear about your adventures and be inspired by you guys!  And in exchange, here's a dish that has revolutionized my view of rice.

I first had this purple rice a couple months ago at a restaurant in Los Angeles' Koreatown.  The striking color, the surprising addition of black beans, and the crispy layer of rice that formed in the bottom of the stone pot all captivated me, and after coming home I immediately set about investigating how to make this kind of rice.

After researching a number of recipes, I confess I was a little overwhelmed.  Known as Ogokbap (오곡밥), or "Five Grain Rice," the authentic versions are made with a combination of glutinous rice, black beans, glutinous African millet, sweet red bean, and glutinous rice millet (though some have barley in there as well as wild rice), and each ingredient has its own individual soaking and cooking specifications.  How do you coordinate all that while making all the other dishes involved with the meal?  I knew I had to streamline this somehow.

Enter my version, which I'm calling "Four Grain Rice."  Much easier than the elaborate recipes I've read to date, with ingredients that are not so hard to find.  (For example, I just haven't been able to find glutinous African millet anywhere, so that got nixed from the recipe.)

It's a healthy rice dish, with protein and fiber from the beans, and I'm thrilled by what a breeze it is to prepare it!  Try making this next time instead of your usual steamed white rice! 

Four-Grain Rice
Serves 2-3

2 Tbs. dried black beans
½ cup sweet/glutinous white rice (chapssal, 찹쌀)
2 Tbs. wild sweet rice
2 Tbs. pearled barley
¼ tsp. salt (optional)

Soak the black beans in a cup of water overnight at room temperature.

On the day of cooking, place the white rice, wild rice, and barley together in a pot, cover with water, and soak for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Strain all water from the rice and beans, and then place them together in a pot.  Add 1 cup water and salt (if using) and cover pot with a well-fitting lid.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce burner to low and cook for 30 minutes.  Turn off heat and let continue to steam for at least 10 minutes.  (Do not open lid during cooking!)

Before serving, lightly fluff rice with chopsticks or skewers.

P.S. The pearled barley I used stayed kind of chewy; if you don't like crunchy bits in your rice, substitute the real Korean-style barley, which is split and polished a bit more than regular pearled barley found in the USA.

12 April 2011

Fusion pizza of the week

So I'm definitely not a vegan (wow, how I love my meat and eggs), but while reflecting on the merits of my doenjang dressing and on the bits and pieces sitting in my fridge, I was inspired to make this pizza, which not only turns out to be pretty tasty, but also has a great balance of protein, veggies, and carbs....and is, I later realized, vegan.

It's kind of quirky--I started craving a thin-crust Italian-style pizza (i.e. the kind you'd actually find in Italy), and ended up with a flavor profile that's totally non-Italian.  But the combination works, and I find it absolutely delicious.  Soft, sauteed Asian and Italian vegetables meld together with thin slices of tofu and that amazing savory doenjang dressing I told you about last time.  And the pizza crust is nice and thin and crispy on the edges, with a few luscious soft spots in the middle of the pie.  Definitely my kind of pizza!

The recipe for the pizza dough comes straight from one of my favorite kitchens in Tuscany, and it makes a great base for any number of toppings.  Feel free to mix and match to your hearts content, but if you do have the ingredients I list below, you should definitely try my version out.  It's just that good.

By the way, there are supposed to be some gorgeous pan-roasted cherry tomato halves scattered all across the pizza, but I didn't get them on there in time for the photos.  And once the tomatoes joined the scene, the pizza got eaten.  That's just the way it goes sometimes!  You won't want to miss out on the tomatoes, as they contribute fantastic tangy bursts of flavor that go really nicely with the rest of the pizza components.

And don't forget to have a little pitcher of the doenjang dressing at the table!  It's so good you'll want to pour on boatloads of that stuff, I believe.

Californitalian Fusion Pizza
Serves 2-4

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. yeast
3/4 cup warm water
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. olive oil
polenta or cornmeal for the pan

2 baby bok choy, rinsed and chopped, stems and leafy parts kept separate
1 cup zucchini, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 medium yellow onion, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
sea salt
1 1/2 blocks (~8 oz.) tofu, thinly sliced
doenjang dressing

Mix warm water and yeast together in a large mixing bowl and let sit for 5 minutes until yeast becomes bubbly.  If yeast does not bubble up, discard and start over with fresh yeast.  Add flour and sprinkle salt over, mix together with a wooden spoon until dough forms.  Drizzle hands with olive oil and knead dough in the bowl for a few minutes to develop the gluten.  Form dough into a ball, coat with a little more olive oil, then cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

Sprinkle a large (12-inch by 18-inch) rimmed baking sheet with a small handful of polenta or cornmeal, then stretch dough out to fit the pan.  Let dough rest in pan for about 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, prepare the toppings.

Heat a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat and lightly coat with olive oil.  Saute zucchini until golden brown, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.  Saute the onions until caramelized, then add to the zucchini.  Add the leafy parts of the bok choy directly to the bowl, and saute the bok choy stems until crisp-tender.  Add to the bowl of vegetables and toss them all together, seasoning with salt to taste.  Finally, pan-roast the cherry tomato halves until skins are blistering and tomatoes are hot; sprinkle with salt and set aside.

To assemble the pizza, spread about 1/2 cup of the doenjang dressing over the dough, then evenly distribute half of the tofu pieces, followed by all of the veggies (except for the tomatoes), followed by the rest of the tofu.  Drizzle with a little more doenjang dressing.

Bake at 420 F for 20 minutes (or longer, depending on how dark you like your crust).  Sprinkle with tomatoes and serve with extra doenjang dressing at the table.

06 April 2011

Hey Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a city of contrasts: the old-money retirees, the young college crowd.  The white nouveau riche families who’ve moved here to escape the smog of Los Angeles and the poor Latino families eking out a living.  The chill surfer crowd sporting trendy fashions, and pockets of internationals, drawn to Santa Barbara for the serious research opportunities at the University.

And then there is a family of people that embodies what I think of as the “locals.”  Their skin is wind-weathered and sun-kissed.  They are artists living in the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains wearing dream-catcher earrings.  They are fleece-wearing hikers and rock climbers.  They eat organic and shop at the Farmers’ Market.  A lot of them are vegan.  They remember when there was parking on lower State Street, not to mention traffic light intersections along the freeway.  They’re the hippies of today, joining in the evening drum-circle dances along the beach.  For them, life is unrushed.  And when I think about it, they all have a connection to the earth of this place, somehow.

These people—my family and neighbors for 26 years—are what I think of when I eat a salad like this.  Healthy and grounded.  It has tons of fresh vegetables and herbs.  And it’s got sprouts!  And a handful of nutty, toasted and salted pepitas.  And it’s dressed with a tangy miso-like dressing made from doenjang (the Korean version of miso paste).  A mix of local veggies plus Mexican pepitas, with a nod to the international influences here in California.

Here’s my Santa Barbara salad, folks.  Bring your fork, get comfortable, and enjoy some of this California food.

Mixed-Vegetable Salad
Makes 1-2 servings

2 cups lettuce (red & green leaf, torn into bite-sized pieces)
½ cup finely sliced cabbage
¼ cup each sliced cucumbers and celery
½ cup alfalfa sprouts
1/8 cup each sliced radish and shredded carrot
¼ cup each broccoli and cauliflower florets, steamed until fork tender and cooled
¼ cup basil leaves, roughly torn
Salt and pepper
Roasted salted pepitas

Arrange all ingredients in a large dish or shallow bowl.  Before serving, drizzle with doenjang dressing.

Doenjang Salad Dressing
¼ cup Doenjang (Korean fermented bean paste), or substitute miso paste
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup chopped yellow onion
½ tsp. sugar
2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
2-4 Tbs. water, to taste

Combine all ingredients, except for the water, in a blender (or narrow bowl with tall sides, if using an immersion stick blender).  Blend until smooth and creamy.  Then, with blender running, add as much or little water as you like to get the desired consistency.  The doenjang is very salty, so no extra salt should be necessary.