Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Stem Slaw

So, you’ve eaten the dark green part of your broccoli stalk, the most desirable part, the floret, the part that soaks up stir fry sauces and salad dressings like a little edible mop. Now you’ve got the rest of that stalk. You paid good money for it, or put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into growing it yourself. You can’t throw it away. Sure, you could compost it if you’ve got a compost heap already going. That sturdy stalk, however, sacrificed itself to form the very foundation from which those tasty florets were able to reach their full glory. It deserves better. I say, eat it.

You could make it into a soup, but I have yet to have great success with broccoli soups. My guess is that they are typically loaded with cheese for a reason. What I do with leftover broccoli stems is peel them, shred them and toss them with some kind of dressing that allows that humble stalk to graduate to slaw. You can buy broccoli slaw in bags in your supermarket produce department, but I’m sure you’ll pay about a bajillion percent more for that, along with the stalk-less florets sold nearby. Does broccoli need such deconstruction to satisfy our modern culinary needs? You make the call.

When I made my most recent bowl of stem slaw, I also added another shredded stem to the mix: kohlrabi. If you’re not familiar with kohlrabi, it’s a kind of Old World cabbage relative. Really, the part that is most tasty is basically a cabbage stem on steroids. The leaves grow out from this spherical stem, but they’re pretty puny in comparison. Kohlrabi ranges in size from that of a tennis ball up to softball-size and beyond in the variety known as “Kossak” (probably the Gigante cultivar.) I was only able to get a hold of those big ones (which are an amazing value in this part of the country) to make this salad. They taste a little like cabbage, a little like mild turnips, and if you have any leftover after making a slaw, they are great cut into sticks and munched on along with other crudite offerings or as a snack.

I combined caraway seeds and coriander seeds along with a little lemon juice in the creamy dressing for this slaw. Really, you could use just about any coleslaw dressing you like, or even the dressings used to make Asian-style cabbage salads. After all, kohlrabi and broccoli are just cabbage cousins anyway. I think all of the Brassica plants are undersung anyway, so let’s give their lowly (or in the case of kohlrabi, overachieving) stems and stalks at least a few moments to shine, and get our money’s worth in the process.

Broccoli Stem and Kohlrabi Slaw

Be sure to peel all of the tough outer layers from the broccoli stems and kohlrabi. The kohlrabi especially has some fibrous layers just beneath the skin that are best left out of a salad.

8 ounces kohlrabi, peeled
8 ounces broccoli stem, peeled
1 medium carrot, peeled
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed
½ teaspoon whole coriander seeds, crushed
½ teaspoon coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper½ cup onion, thinly sliced

1. Cut the peeled kohlrabi and broccoli stems into pieces that fit into the feed tube of a food processor with a shredding disk. Shred the kohlrabi, broccoli stem and carrot using the food processor shredding disk.

2. In a large bowl, combine the sour cream, mayonnaise, lemon juice, caraway seeds, coriander seeds, salt and pepper. Whisk to combine.

3. Add the shredded kohlrabi, broccoli stem, carrot and onion to the bowl. Stir to coat well with the sour cream mixture.

Makes about 6 servings. Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days. (Leftovers may become watery.)

One year ago: Rhubarb Yogurt Cake

Monday, June 28, 2010

Simple Broccoli Stir Fry

Well, summer is here. The calendar says so. The weather agrees. Even the type of vegetables riding in my CSA box are admitting the truth. It’s not just leafy greens that grew quickly in the cooler spring weather. Green beans and sugar snap peas have arrived as have a few beets (quickly turned into Beet and Carrot Burgers, so I don’t have to face them for long) and, perhaps best of all, broccoli.
Last year I posted two recipes for broccoli salads (this one and this one), but I know I made a simple broccoli stir fry with Szechuan peppercorns and water chestnuts several times as well. It was time to quantify those ingredients I was just flinging around and share them in the form of a real recipe. It’s very easy to make and has just five ingredients, including the frying oil (I used peanut oil, but you could use whatever neutral-flavored oil you have on hand).

If you’re not familiar with Szechuan peppercorns, they are not at all the same as the black peppercorns you keep in the grinder next to the salt shaker. They are nice and spicy, but they have an additional curious quality to their spice, almost a floral note, and their zip strikes the tongue a bit differently than black pepper, or even chile peppers. I like the way they create a sort of zing down the sides of my tongue (especially the right side, for some reason. Maybe that’s just where I most often chew.) I love these little things, which are more dark brown than black, and look more like little round broken, desiccated seed pods than the tiny dried berries that black pepper resembles. (Sorry, I didn’t get any good photos.) You can get them from Penzeys Spices if you can’t find them anywhere else. I left this stir fry quite simple just to feature their flavor more…oh yeah, and that of the broccoli, too.

This dish is best with fresh broccoli florets and a few of the more tender parts near the top of the stem. The florets soak up the soy sauce and Szechuan peppercorn flavor like little mops. I like to keep them fairly crisp (this is another one of those vegetables I think gets ruined by cooking it too much), which goes well with the irrepressibly crisp water chestnuts. I like to use whole water chestnuts cut in half rather than the sliced ones, because I prefer their chunkiness. You can use sliced water chestnuts if you cannot fine them whole.

Even though this stir fry is best with broccoli florets, don’t just throw away the stems. People are actually making good money on shredded broccoli stems, sold as “broccoli slaw.” You can cash in by not tossing out, especially if you have a food processor with a shredding disk. Hmmm…this sounds suspiciously like a teaser for the next post. See you then!

Szechuan Broccoli and Water Chestnut Stir Fry

2 tablespoons peanut oil or canola oil
1 ½ teaspoons Szechuan peppercorns, lightly crushed
12 ounces broccoli florets and tender stems
8 ounce can whole water chestnuts, drained, halved
¼ cup soy sauce (I use reduced sodium)

1. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan over high heat. Add the Szechuan peppercorns and sizzle them about 15 seconds.

2. Add the broccoli and water chestnuts and stir fry about 5 minutes, or until the broccoli is just beginning to get brown in a few spots.

3. Add the soy sauce and cook about 3 more minutes, stirring frequently. The broccoli will still be quite crisp. Serve with rice.

Makes about 3 main-dish servings (with rice) or 5-6 side dish servings.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Adventures in Green Beans and Wasabi

Several months ago, when it was definitely the green bean off-season, Harry ordered an appetizer at a chain restaurant that consisted of battered and fried green beans and a creamy wasabi dipping sauce. While the dish itself was predictably average overall, I loved the combination of wasabi and green beans. I’ve been thinking about that combination since that fateful day and looking forward to the arrival of green beans in our CSA box like I never had before.

Those beans did arrive earlier this month, perfectly crisp and pale green, and earlier than I had expected. Fortunately, for once I was well-prepared and had a tube of wasabi paste waiting for the occasion.

If you’re not familiar with wasabi, it is basically Japanese horseradish. You can get it as a pale green paste (in a tube) or powder. I’ve found the powder in average supermarket spice racks, and the paste seems to be fairly easily available in the Asian food departments of those same supermarkets (by the soy sauce, rice vinegar, etc.) Its flavor is a bit more smooth and delicate than European horseradish, but it packs a similar punch. The vapors from a large enough dose can escape the soft palate to fumigate the nasal passages and make the eyes water. While I like that about wasabi, I realize that may not be everyone’s ideal culinary experience. If that’s not how you roll, consider this a warning to go easy on the wasabi.

As tempting as it would have been to make fried or tempura green beans and a wasabi dipping sauce, I decided to display this flavor combo in a salad. Personally, I think the best way to totally ruin a green bean is to cook it. That being said, I also find them a little too hard to chew as the main ingredient of a salad if they are raw, so I blanched them for this salad. If, rather than boiling the heck out of them, you just boil them for a few minutes, then shock them in ice water to stop the cooking, you’ll have pleasantly tender-crisp beans rather than the greenish mush that seems to have plagued so many childhoods

I also reconstituted a few dried shiitake mushrooms for this salad, which were quite a good addition. You could use a small handful of fresh shiitake caps instead. Other mushrooms might work also, but the distinctive, slightly smoky flavor of the shiitakes was really what I was looking for.

A few other Asian flavors round out the creamy dressing, but I have to admit that I may have overachieved when it came to the wasabi experience. I added a whole tablespoon of wasabi paste, and if you’re not adventurous when it comes to bold flavors, you’ll definitely want to use less. I’ve included a range of quantities of wasabi that I think is reasonable in the recipe below. To me, a little eye watering at the dinner table is all part of the show, but if that’s not your thing, use less wasabi and seek your thrills elsewhere.

Green Bean and Shiitake Salad with Creamy Wasabi Dressing
You could use a small handful of fresh shiitake mushroom caps in place of the reconstituted dried mushrooms.

¼ cup chopped walnuts
½ ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
1 pound green beans, stem ends removed, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives or green onion tops
1 tablespoon soy sauce (I use reduced sodium)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon to1 tablespoon wasabi paste (1 tablespoon is very strong)
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

1. Heat the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium-low heat until just beginning to brown. Remove from the heat and cool.

2. Place the dried shiitake mushrooms in a small bowl. Pour boiling water over them to cover completely. Let stand about 20 minutes or until completely reconstituted. Remove the mushrooms from the water and thinly slice. Set aside.

3. Prepare a large bowl of ice water and set aside. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the beans to the boiling water and stir. Boil 3 minutes. Remove the beans with a slotted spoon and plunge them into the ice water to stop cooking. When the beans have cooled, drain them well and place in a bowl.

4. Add the sliced shiitakes to the green beans. In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, chives or green onions, soy sauce, rice vinegar, wasabi paste and sesame oil. Whisk well to combine. Pour the mayonnaise mixture over the bean mixture and mix well to coat. Sprinkle the toasted walnuts over the top.

Makes about 4 servings. Chill any leftovers for a few days.

Another green bean recipe: Mustard Green and Green Bean Stir Fry with Peanuts

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Going Crackers

Having a flexible summer schedule can wreak a little havoc with the use of some more inflexible objects, such as desk-top computers. I’ve been away from my desk, so to speak, for quite some time, so if you’ve been bored enough to look for something new to read here, I’m sorry that there has been no such thing. I hope to get some extra posts in over the next week or so, so that my June 2010 archives don’t look quite so bare.

First of all, I thought I’d get back to that olive oil flatbread that I made with fresh thyme from my container garden to go with Asparagus and Goat Cheese Dip so long ago. Really, it’s a sort of rustic cracker broken into irregular shards that beg to be dipped in or spread with something thick and creamy. I bumped up the WFQ* from the original recipe by switching out some of the all purpose flour for whole wheat pastry flour, and that turned out to be a great mix with the thyme and olive oil.

This dough is quite simple to make. You just mix flour and oil and water and herbs until they come together into a ball that you only need to knead a few times, just to keep it in line a little better. You could use any herbs you like (I used the thyme to match that in the Asparagus and Goat Cheese Dip) or probably any spices. I’d also like to try some flours from other grains (especially rice flour) and perhaps add some finely ground nuts or seeds such as sunflower or sesame. Oh, the possibilities!

The tricky thing about this stuff is that you really do need to roll out the dough onto parchment paper if you want to have any chance of turning it into anything beyond dough. It isn’t gooey or particularly messy, but it would adhere rather hopelessly to a counter or table, so use the parchment.

The hardest part of making these rustic crackers is getting the rolled-out dough into the oven. I baked it on a preheated pizza baking stone and transferred it there using a wooden peel, but you could invert a baking sheet on the oven rack and slide the dough and parchment onto that. If you don’t have a peel, try using the back of another baking sheet or a rimless cookie sheet.

Really, the chances are that you’re more physically coordinated than I am anyway, and won’t need the years of pizza-baking experience I’ve had just to get a dough like this into the oven without maiming yourself. If you’re not exactly a culinary acrobat, I say give it a chance, and perhaps practice baking these crackers before your next dinner party. You’ll probably really impress your friends by making your own crackers, especially ones as delicious as these. Then again, depending on your friends, they may just think you’ve gone insane.

Rustic Homemade Crackers with Thyme
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 cup all purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
½ cup water
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing
additional salt for sprinkling (this would be a good place to use a flaky sea salt)

1. Preheat oven to 450 F with a baking stone or an inverted baking sheet on the rack in the middle of the oven.

2. Combine all purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, baking powder, ¾ teaspoon salt and thyme in a medium size bowl. Whisk together until well combined.

3. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add the water and 1/3 cup olive oil. Stir into the flour mixture until all is just moistened. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead 5 to 8 times, or until it has all come together into a ball.

4. Divide the dough ball into three pieces. Set aside two of the pieces and cover them with plastic wrap or a clean towel. Spread a piece of parchment paper out on your work surface. On the parchment paper, roll one piece of dough out into a roughly 10-inch round. The shape is not important, but the dough should be very thin.

5. Lightly brush the surface of the rolled dough with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Gently press the salt into the dough with your hands. Using a wooden peel or the back of a baking pan or cookie sheet, slide the dough, still on the parchment paper, into the oven on the preheated baking stone or inverted baking sheet.

6. Bake for 8 to10 minutes or until it is crisp and golden brown and has a few darker brown spots. Carefully remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Repeat with remaining two pieces of dough. When the crackers are cool enough to handle, remove from the parchment and break into rustic shards. These will keep for a day or two in an airtight container.

*WFQ: Whole Food Quotient

One Year Ago: No-Knead bread

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Expanding My Dip-ertoire

Each year, when I get this lovely asparagus in our CSA box, I can hardly decide what to do with it. To me, it seems to be great in anything, on anything and with anything, so I probably can’t go wrong. With that no-fail attitude I faced a new recipe recently, one for an asparagus and goat cheese spread or dip.

Even thought I hadn’t tried them together myself, I’d seen enough recipes that paired asparagus and goat cheese to be fairly confident that they would work and play well with each other. Sure, it’s all a matter of taste, but a combination wouldn’t be repeated in the literature so many times if it wasn’t a good one, would it? (Okay, I’ve seen beets with blue cheese plenty of times, too, so maybe this line of thinking doesn’t quite extend to infinity.)

Another thing that was new to me in this recipe was the use of silken tofu to provide the creamy base of the dip, where I usually might see sour cream or mayonnaise. Now, I often am at least a little bit skeptical of replacing familiar and traditional ingredients with something healthy or trendy or something my dad would think is weird. But I know tofu well enough to know its flavor is pretty neutral and silken tofu is pretty darn smooth and creamy. It should, if figured, help to make a smooth and creamy dip.

Thanks to the food processor, this dip/spread is fairly simple. Just cook the asparagus with some garlic (I did that in the microwave) and puree it with the goat cheese, silken tofu, fresh thyme, salt and pepper. And it tastes good, too, as long as you like asparagus and goat cheese. Their flavors do indeed compliment each other to the point where I would taste and think, “There is the asparagus, no, wait, that was the goat cheese,” and then taste it again and again. I served it with homemade crackers. (Really!…I hope to post that recipe soon.) You could serve it with your favorite dip-ables.

I think this recipe will be a good addition to my spring dip repertoire (or dip-ertoire) and the use of silken tofu in dips is something I’m sure I’ll be repeating. Maybe I’ll even try it out on my dad. If I don’t tell him there’s soy bean curd in his dip, he’ll never know it’s weird. Then again, the man eats peanut butter and cheddar cheese sandwiches, so may not really be qualified to make such a judgment.

Asparagus and Goat Cheese Dip
Based on a recipe in Vegetarian Times magazine

¾ pound asparagus, tough ends removed, chopped
½ teaspoon salt, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons water
6 ounces silken tofu
3 ounces soft goat cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1. Place the asparagus, ¼ teaspoon salt, garlic and water in a microwave-safe container. Cover with plastic wrap and poke a few holes in the wrap. Microwave on high for 3 minutes. Carefully remove from the microwave and let stand, covered, for about 10 minutes. Very carefully (there will be steam escaping) remove the plastic wrap. Cool another 10 minutes (or longer. You can refrigerate the asparagus a day ahead.)

2. Remove the asparagus and garlic from the steaming water and place in the bowl of a food processor. Process until a coarse paste is formed. Add the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, tofu, goat cheese, pepper and thyme. Process until very smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the processor bowl if necessary.

3. Chill before serving if you have time. (I didn’t and it was still delicious.)

Makes about 2 cups

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Green Stuff

Our first CSA box, which we picked up on Tuesday, was chock full of green stuff. It looks like I’ve been hunting in the Emerald City and bagged my legal limit. Not only was there lots and lots of lettuce and a giant bunch of spinach (giant!), but also good bundle if cilantro and a nice bunch of asparagus. There were also radishes with their leaves and rhubarb, which are each partly to mostly green, so they count, too.

So, I’ve been eating green salads with various dressings at nearly every meal, and, since I have a bunch of new dressing recipes to try, I doubt I’ll get tired of salad any time soon. The spinach, asparagus, radishes and rhubarb will all find good homes, but I needed a recipe to really feature the cilantro. It seems that people either love the stuff and explore Southeast Asian and Mexican cuisine so they can eat more of it, or hate it and declare that it tastes like soap. I’m firmly in the former group, and if my soap tasted like cilantro, I would eat it.

I decided on a relish/sauce that is mostly cilantro (I used the whole bunch that we received) that I mixed into sautéed green onions and Asian rice stick noodles and topped with chopped peanuts. To the chopped up cilantro, I added lime juice and zest, garlic, ginger, a chile pepper, a little salt, and fish sauce. If you’re not familiar with fish sauce, it’s a kind of funky, super flavorful sauce that you can find in just about any supermarket these days. To me, it’s what makes Thai food taste like Thai food and a little goes a long way. You could probably leave it out of this dish if you don’t like it or if you want to make it strictly vegetarian. I would recommend adding soy sauce instead, just to replace some of the savory-ness, but it won’t be quite the same.

The cilantro “sauce” stays raw, but what would otherwise be harsh flavors are mellowed a bit when tossed with the hot noodles and cooked green onions. You could probably use any noodles you like here, but the rice stick noodles I happened to have on hand were particularly nice. It was fun as well as tasty to slurp up, even though I’m pretty chopstick challenged. I would have liked it to be a little spicier, so I think next time I make it I’ll leave the seeds and ribs in the chile pepper. You can spice yours up to your desire and at your own risk.

Noodles with Cilantro, Green Onions and Peanuts

1 small garlic clove
¾ teaspoon salt, divided
2 cups cilantro leaves and tender stems
1 tablespoon ginger, grated or minced
zest of 1 lime
1 small chile pepper, seeds and ribs removed if desired, minced
½ teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
8 ounces rice stick noodles, or other noodles as you prefer
1 bunch green onions
1 tablespoon canola oil (or other neutral-tasting oil)
½ cup chopped peanuts

1. Finely chop the garlic. Sprinkle ½ teaspoon salt on the garlic. Chop the salt with the garlic a few times. Press and scrape the garlic and salt together with a knife until a coarse paste is formed.

2. Coarsely chop the cilantro. Place the garlic paste, ginger, lime zest and chile pepper on top of the chopped cilantro. Chop everything together until the cilantro is finely minced. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Stir in the fish sauce and lime juice. Set aside while preparing the remaining ingredients.

3. Cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain.

4. Cut the green onions in half (or quarters if they are large) and slice diagonally into long, thin pieces.

5. Heat the canola oil in a large skillet or pot (I used the noodle-cooking pot to save on dish-washing) over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Sauté about 5 minutes or until tender and beginning to brown.

6. Add the cooked noodles and the cilantro mixture and toss together. Remove from heat and place in a serving bowl if desired. Sprinkle the chopped peanuts on top.

Makes 3 main dish or perhaps 6 side dish servings.

Other recipes like this one: Peanutty Noodles, Cilantro Cream Dipping Sauce

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Versatile Rhubarb Compote

When a lady who just had a baby not only offers you rhubarb from her garden, but then goes out and cuts it for you herself, you must, must, do something especially good with it. This describes the good fortune I had recently, and I was determined that this was not the time for agonizing over which recipe among a stack of delicious-looking candidates would provide the best opportunity to feature that perfect rhubarb while it wastes away in the refrigerator, untouched until it’s too late. How do I know that such things can happen? It’s best if we don’t discuss it.

Oh, there were many options in that stack of recipes, but I made a quick decision. I went with something versatile, a rhubarb compote, admittedly similar to the Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce I made last year, but also more sophisticated and, in my opinion, more delicious. It’s basically a big pot of rhubarb cooked with brown sugar and vanilla bean.

I was quite surprised by the difference brown sugar makes in this recipe as compared to the regular white sugar I’ve used with rhubarb before. It brings in caramel notes that go beyond the sweetness rhubarb requires. The vanilla bean (actually half a vanilla bean) is pure luxury. This was the first time I ever used a vanilla bean in my life, and I’m hooked. The bean provides an additional rich, floral and fruity quality that just isn’t present in the vanilla extract we all know and love. I won’t stop using vanilla extract (it’s significantly less expensive as well as more convenient to use) and you may be able to use extract in this dish if you stir some in at the end of cooking. If, however, you’re curious about vanilla beans, or you bought one on a whim, this is a good recipe to try one out. It’s easy to make and the vanilla bean’s influence on the flavor is quite apparent.

After looking more closely at some of the rhubarb recipes I had to pass by, I noticed that many of them begin by cooking the rhubarb into a sauce kind of like this one. That could mean that I could simply substitute this compote into these recipes as needed: pies and tarts, waffles, custard bars and even cheesecake. I already know it’s fabulous on vanilla ice cream (also made with a vanilla bean. Like I said, I’m hooked.) I can’t wait to see what else it can do.

Rhubarb Compote with Brown Sugar and Vanilla Bean
Adaped from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Good to the Grain

I often add lemon juice to rhubarb recipes, because I read that the acid helps keep the final product a nice pink color. You can leave it out if desired.

1 ½ pounds rhubarb, chopped
1 cup brown sugar
½ vanilla bean (cut the whole bean in half crosswise and store the remaining piece)
2 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Place the rhubarb in a medium-sized saucepan. Cut open the skin of the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the fine black seeds on the inside with the tip of a knife. Add the scraped seeds and the rest of the pod to the rhubarb. Add the sugar and lemon juice and stir well.

2. Heat the rhubarb mixture over medium low heat, stirring frequently until it begins to soften and give off some liquid. Cover and cook over medium low heat 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Uncover and cook over medium-low to medium heat 15-17 minutes or until very saucy. Remove the vanilla bean pod.

Serve as desired. (It’s very good with vanilla ice cream.)

Other rhubarb recipes: Rhubarb Sour Cream Muffins, Rhubarb Yogurt Cake, Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce

One year ago: Chickpea and Olive Salad with Greek Flavors