Friday, June 29, 2012

Spring Panzanella

There is no better way to celebrate the bounty of spring - this salad is truly spring on a plate. Bite size croutons tossed with tender pencil asparagus, sweet english peas, crisp French radish and dressed with a combination of mild oniony chives, fresh mint, and herby parsley and a lemony dressing. Every bite is fresh and light and completely delicious.

Spring Panzanella

3 cups croutons or 1/2 baguette cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon pepper (optional)
Two, 3 inch long pink radish, cut into julienne
1/2 lb Fresh green peas - 1 cup shelled
1/2 lb thin asparagus - cut into 3/4 inch pieces
4 tablespoons finely chopped chives
1 cup loosely packed mint leaves, finely shredded
1/2 cup Italian parsley, finely minced

Juice of 1 medium lemon
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Lots of freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 F. If you are using a baguette, toss the cubes with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and lemon pepper if using. Spread out onto a baking sheet in a single layer and cook for 6 minutes. Remove when cool and place into the salad bowl.
  2. Blanch the peas for 3 to 5 minutes depending on the size of the peas in salted boiling water and shock in ice  cold water. The peas should be tender but crisp.
  3. Blanch the asparagus in salted boiling water as well till tender about 3 minutes. Drain and shock in iced water.
  4. Make the dressing and set aside.
  5. To the croutons, add the blanched vegetables, radish and the herbs. Toss with the lemony dressing. Set aside for an hour before serving.
Serves 4

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Stir fried Chayote (Chow Chow - Poriyal)

Chayote is known by many names in different parts of the world - christophene or christophine, cho-cho, mirliton or merleton, pear squash, vegetable pear, chouchoute, choko. It is an edible plant belonging to the gourd family. It has a mildly sweet taste and can be eaten raw in a salad or cooked. When I first came to the US I could find them only in ethnic grocery stores, but now seven years later, the main stream grocery stores carry them as well.

This method of cooking chayote is characteristic of Southern Indian cuisine, where the vegetables are lightly spiced with mustard seeds and urad dal (little white lentils, which turn brown when sauteed). I use a mandoline with a julienne attachment to cut the chayote into thin strips. This helps to cook the chayote without overcooking it.

Stir fried Chayote - Chow Chow Poriyal

Raw chayote

2 chayote
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
2 teaspoons urad dal
1/8 teaspoon asafetida (optional)
1 dry red chili (optional)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
  1. Peel the chayote and cut them into thin strips. It is best to use a mandoline to get them thin and even. 
  2. Heat a large heavy bottomed non-stick skillet with canola oil. Add the mustard seeds and urad dal and cook over medium heat for 30 seconds till the dal turns light brown and the mustard seeds pop. Add the dry red chili and the asafetida and cook for 20 seconds. 
  3. Add the chopped chayote and salt and cook over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes till the chayote wilts but still retains its texture.
  4. Serve with steamed white rice and a lentil soup.
Serves 3 - 4 as part of a shared meal

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Caramel Tofu

Proteins cooked in a caramel sauce is a classic Vietnamese preparation. Typically the meat is lightly browned and then cooked in this sweet, spicy, salty and tangy sauce till it gets a sticky coating becomes sticky. In this vegetarian version, the tofu pieces are cooked till they get a gently crust and then combined with the onions and the caramel sauce. I have made this caramel sauce with chili flakes and with pepper. Both impart a different kind of heat to the dish. You may like to try it with both.
It is a super tasty tofu dish, one that you will want to make again and again. I combine it with the Steamed asparagus and steamed rice for a complete meal any night of the week.

Caramel Tofu

One 14 oz container Lite Firm tofu, drained and cut into 1 inch cubes (I used Nasoya brand)
1 large yellow onion thinly sliced (more than a cup)
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 tablespoons soy sauce (I used Yamasa soy sauce)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon dried chili flakes or freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon + 1 tablespoon canola oil
  1. In a small bowl, mix the sugar, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and salt and set aside.
  2. Heat a large heavy bottomed non-stick skillet or a wok with 1 tablespoon canola oil. Place the tofu in a single layer so that it develops a light crust. Cook on each side for 2 minutes. 
  3. Add 1 more tablespoon canola oil, the sliced onion, garlic, ginger and chili flakes or black pepper and cook for 2 minutes over medium heat. Add the sauce and continue to cook for about 8 minutes over medium heat till the caramel begins to form. [It will not be a thick caramel since I like to have some gravy for the rice].
  4. Serve with steamed rice.
Serves 3 to 4 as part of a multi-course meal.

Roasted green beans with Hoisin Sauce

These beans are reminiscent of the "dry-fried Szechuan green beans" - a cooking technique that makes them extra tender. I like to steam the beans first and then roast them in the oven to achieve the same texture as the "dry frying" which calls for a lot of oil. Soft and blistered coated in a sticky sauce of hoisin, soy and garlic these are very addictive. One pound is just enough for two green bean lovers, so please feel free to double this recipe if your family loves beans. I paired them up with Kung Pao tofu and steamed spinach for a wonderful weeknight dinner.

Roasted green beans with Hoisin Sauce

1lb green beans
1 1/2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
  1. Trim the beans and steam them for about 7 minutes till they have lost their crunch but are still al-dente.
  2. Mix the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, minced garlic, salt and canola oil to make a sauce and toss the beans evenly in the sauce. 
  3. Spread out the beans on a baking sheet and roast at 400 F for 30 minutes till the sauce caramelizes and the beans look blistered and shriveled.
  4. Serve as a side with steamed rice and a tofu dish.
Serves 2 - 3