Sharing is caring

At least, that’s how my office staff feels, and once a month, our ‘staff spirit’ committee organizes a potluck to bring people together for at least one lunch.  My first office potluck’s theme was “The Last Supper” and everyone was asked to bring dishes that began with their last initial.  It was a fun theme and I brought noodles (japchae) and Nutella Banana Bread.  YUM!

For this last potluck, the theme was Asian food.  I was pressed for time so chose to do something super easy and Americanized, but at least somewhat healthy and hopefully appealing to the masses.  Who doesn’t love chinese chicken salad?  Unfortunately, it is usually laden with fried wontons and syrupy dressing … so I decided to make my own version of Kale Chinese Chicken Salad.  As a heartier green, the kale would remain nice and crisp even an hour or two after I tossed the salad in the dressing – just what I was looking for!

Preparation was made exceedingly easy by a trip to my nearby Whole Foods – after snagging one of their flavorful rotisserie chickens and a bag of their Harvest Sensations Kale Salad mix, I was all set to go!

IMG_3497 kale-salad2

Kale Chinese Chicken Salad (serves 6-8)

  • 1 package of Harvest Sensations kale salad mix (contains kale, shredded carrot, purple cabbage – about 6-8 cups of de-stemmed kale leaves)
  • 1 small 2.5 lb rotisserie chicken, meat shredded
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Ponzu juice (or just more lemon juice)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil or canola oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
  • 15 wonton wrappers, thawed and cut into 1 cm strips
  • vegetable oil spray or mist-o

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray wonton strips with a little vegetable oil and distribute evenly in a single layer on a large cookie sheet.  Bake ~6-8 minutes or until golden-brown, stirring half-way through to allow for even crisping.  Set aside.
  2. Whisk together soy sauce, lemon juice, ponzu (if using), sugar, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a small bowl, then add sesame oil and grapeseed/canola oil in a slow stream, whisking until sugar is dissolved and dressing is combined well.  Adjust seasoning to taste.
  3. Toss chicken and scallions with 1/3 cup of dressing in another large bowl.
  4. Toss kale salad mixture with enough remaining dressing to coat, massaging in the dressing.
  5. Add chicken, scallions, cilantro, almonds, and sesame seeds to the kale and toss well.
  6. Just before serving, top with wonton crisps.

Optional additions: blanched snow peas or sugar snap peas, mandarin orange slices (pith removed).

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To old friends and new salads

and SPRING, glorious spring!  Even in California, without ‘true seasons,’ it’s pretty obvious when spring arrives.  Sunshine truly becomes abundant, daffodils and hydrangeas fill the parks, and asparagus and strawberries pop up in abundance at farmer’s markets.  ❤

I met up with my old college roommates and their little mini-me’s (3 daughters between the two of them!  so cute!) for a picnic lunch yesterday.  I remember well how we all greeted spring in college – we’d find excuses to eat or sit outside ‘to study’ in Dunster House’s courtyard.  One year, after taking my MCAT, I came home after the 8 hr exam to be greeted by champagne and strawberries in the courtyard.

Yesterday’s picnic felt a little like old times, with some delightful additions: three little girls who liked to chase after ducks and risk a dunking in the pond in their curious pursuit of koi fish and turtles.  We had a delicious assortment of cheese, sandwiches, fresh strawberries and grapes, and I brought along two new salads to provide some vegetables: Grilled Zucchini and Leeks with Walnuts and Herbs and Asparagus with Meyer Lemon and Farro.  Both can be made nut-free for those with allergies, but the almonds and walnuts add texture and heartiness.

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A duo of salads packed for picnicking!

Grilled Zucchini and Leeks with Walnuts and Herbs (recipe from here) – serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 1 garlic clove, finely grated (I used a microplane)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large leeks, white and pale-green parts only, halved lengthwise with some root attached
  • 2 large zucchini (about 1 pound), halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup (lightly packed) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves with tender stems

Instructions:

  1. Prepare grill pan for medium-high heat.
  2. Toast walnuts in a dry small skillet over medium heat, tossing often, until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Chop very coarsely.
  3. Toss warm walnuts with garlic, lemon juice, and 3 tablespoons oil in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper.
  4. Brush leeks and zucchini with remaining 2 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper.
  5. Grill vegetables, turning often, until tender and charred in spots, 5-8 minutes for leeks, 8-10 minutes for zucchini.  Try to keep vegetables al dente, or they will be floppy (not a desirable texture).
  6. Transfer vegetables to a cutting board. Trim roots from leeks and cut leeks and zucchini into bite-size pieces.
  7. Add vegetables and parsley to bowl with walnuts and toss to combine; season vegetables with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice, if desired.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Asparagus with Meyer Lemon and Farro (recipe adapted slightly from here) – serves 3-4

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces (5/8 cup) pearled farro (I used Trader Joe’s 10-minute farro)
  • 4 ounces (5/8 cup) pearl couscous or orzo or Trader Joe’s Harvest Grain Blend
  • 1 Meyer lemon, zested and juiced
  • 3/4 pound asparagus, trimmed
  • 2 tbl olive oil, plus extra for roasting
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 2 ounces soft goat cheese, chilled and crumbled
  • Flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Salt the water generously. Add the farro, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes or until al dente. (If substituting another grain such as spelt or wheat berries, follow package instructions or use this method: A No-Fuss Method for Cooking Almost Any Whole Grain.)
  3. Meanwhile, in another 2-quart saucepan, cook the pearl couscous or Harvest Grain Blend according to package directions.
  4. Spread the grains and pearl couscous on a large baking sheet and set aside to cool. Zest the lemons over the grains and stir to combine.
  5. Trim the asparagus and cut into 1-inch pieces. Toss w/ a little olive oil and season with a little salt.  Roast at 375 degrees F until crisp-tender — about 5-7 minutes, depending on how thick the stalks are.
  6. Toss the cooled grains with the asparagus in a large bowl.
  7. Whisk the Meyer lemon juice with olive oil and season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Taste and adjust. Pour over the grain salad and toss, along with salt and pepper to taste.**
  8. Just before serving, stir in sliced almonds and goat cheese.

**This salad lasts very well in the fridge; the herbal flavors of the Meyer lemons bloom nicely when it sits.

“Not so devilish” noodles

Shirataki noodles are thin, translucent, gelatinous traditional Japanese noodles made from the konjac yam (aka devil’s tongue yam or elephant yam).  They are mostly comprised of glucomannan starch, which is an indigestible fiber.  While very low in carbohydrates and calories and lacking much flavor of their own, shirataki noodles easily pick up the flavors of whatever sauce they are in.  Their slippery texture may be a little unfamiliar to some, but dry roasting them in a non-stick pan can give them more of a pasta-like consistency.

Convenience-wise, shirataki noodles couldn’t be easier – just drain, rinse, and then use!  J. Kenji López-Alt from Serious Eats even has a great recipe for  Sichuan-style shirataki noodle and cucumber salad and sings their praises here.

Shirataki noodles stir-fried with vegetables provided a quick and healthy weeknight dinner.  No need to feel ‘devilishly’ indulgent, here!

IMG_3421Shirataki Noodles with Mushrooms and Sweet Bell Pepper

Ingredients:

  • 7 oz shirataki noodles
  • 4 oyster mushrooms, sliced
  • 4-5 crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 4-5 baby bell peppers, julienned
  • 3 scallions, sliced into 1 inch segments, white and green parts separated
  • 1/2 tsp black bean soy paste
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tsp canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp sriracha
  • Salt to taste
  • Toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Drain and rinse shirataki noodles.  Set aside.
  2. In a nonstick skillet, heat canola oil over medium-high heat.
  3. Add oyster and crimini mushrooms with a pinch of salt to the pan and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes, until they begin to soften and slightly brown at the edges.  Add minced garlic, soy paste, sugar, and 1 tsp low-sodium soy sauce.  Stir-fry for another 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add bell peppers and the chopped white scallion, stir-frying until crisp tender.
  5. Add drained shirataki noodles to the vegetable mixture, seasoning with remaining 1 tsp low sodium soy sauce, sesame oil, and sriracha.  Toss in chopped green scallion and  stir-fry for another 1-2 minutes to let the flavors meld.   Adjust seasoning.
  6. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.

Saffron: worth its weight in gold

Or more, if you attach to it the immense thoughtfulness that my friend Erika had in bringing back a good quantity of it for me from her travels in Turkey, Morocco, and Greece.  I couldn’t join her on her travels, but she helped me get a taste of her adventures by bringing back this cherished spice and inspiring me to experiment with it in the kitchen.

Saffron, with its sweet and grassy notes, is truly a labor-intensive spice to collect.  It is derived from the stigmas of Crocus sativus.   Each plant bears up to four flowers, which each only have 3 stigmas.   It takes 150,000 to 170,000 flowers to glean just 1 kg of the precious saffron threads, and requires the equivalent of 40 hrs of labor.  It is widely used in the cooking of many cuisines, including the paella of Spain, the Milanese risotto of Italy, the bouillabaisse of France, and the biryani of South Asia.  Its vibrant beautiful color adds brightness to all of these dishes, as well as a unique flavor.

J and I have used it lately to make paella (recipe to come later!) but tonight I used it very simply to poach cod, with delightful results.  I paired the poached cod and saffron broth with a refreshing shaved asparagus salad.  It was a quick and healthy weeknight meal, full of bright and interesting flavors!

Gently simmering the cod in the broth is key to achieving buttery, flaky cod (and avoiding rubbery fish).

IMG_3432Poached Cod with Saffron-Tomato Broth (adapted from here)

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ~1 cup (8 oz) of quartered grape tomatoes
  • ~2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • bay leaves
  • pinch of saffron threads
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • two 4-5-oz. skinless cod fillets

Instructions:

  1. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes) and cook, stirring often, until fragrant (garlic should not take on any color), about 3 minutes.
  2. Add tomatoes, wine, bay leaf, saffron, and ~1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until flavors meld, 5–7 minutes; season with salt and pepper.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low; season cod with salt and pepper and place in skillet. Cover and cook at a bare simmer until cod is opaque throughout and beginning to flake, 5–7 minutes (thicker pieces will take longer to cook).
  4. Gently transfer cod to shallow bowls and spoon poaching liquid over.

Shaved Asparagus Salad with Lemon-Parmesan Dressing (original recipe from Food and Wine)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound large asparagus
  • 1/4 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (3/4 ounces)
  • 3/4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon warm water
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1.  Using a vegetable peeler, shave the asparagus into long, thin strips and transfer to a large bowl.
  2.  In a small bowl, mix the Parmigiano-Reggiano with the lemon juice, water and olive oil. Add to the asparagus and toss to coat. Season the salad with salt and pepper and serve at once.

Let them eat…carrots!

Roasted rainbow carrots with toasted cumin and a blood orange vinaigrette, to be exact!

I should have celebrated 3.14.15 (Pi) day with pie, but we somehow didn’t get around to that with all of the other festivities planned for my birthday.  Nor did we have cake, which I guess is a little odd but not missed.  It was the first birthday J and I were able to celebrate together in the same place, so he took it upon himself to plan it all.  Knowing how I’ve missed my friends while in NYC, he somehow managed to gather people from all different phases of my life (college, SF/residency, NYC/fellowship) for fun and food.  As it so happens, my college roommate’s birthday is Pi day, so we were able to celebrate with her, too.  We were just missing pie!  Between dim sum, macarons, wine flights, and late – night tapas, however, there was no time (or calorie deficit) to allow for pie (or cake).

Amidst all the indulgences of the weekend, it was so nice to cleanse the palate with something a little lighter, which somehow bridges the winter-spring transition quite nicely using winter citrus and root vegetables, for perhaps the last time.  I’ve always loved having a March birthday – it’s always a month of hope regardless of where you live, as the vestiges of winter are shaken off and spring warmth slowly seeps in.  We lose some of that seasonality in CA, but even here you can feel the difference as March roars in but leaves gentle green buds in its wake.

This late winter salad, inspired by Ludo Lefebvre’s Roasted Carrot Salad, surprised J into saying “You may make me into a vegetarian yet.”  Carrots are a great source of beta-carotene and vitamin A.  Enjoy!

Roasted Rainbow Carrot Salad with Blood Orange Vinaigrette

IMG_3352 IMG_3353

Ingredients:

For the carrots:

  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1-1½ pounds small rainbow carrots, approximately 5 inches in length, scrubbed clean and tops trimmed (if using larger carrots, peel and slice into sticks about 4-5 inches in length)
  • 1 bay leaf 
  • 6 cloves of unpeeled garlic, smashed (use more if you like garlic)
  • 5 to 7 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  •  Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the blood orange vinaigrette:

  • 2 blood oranges, juiced
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  •  cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the cumin crema:

  • 1 cup nonfat greek yogurt (Fage)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  •  Pinch kosher salt

For the salad:

  • ½ small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped roasted almonds
  • 2 blood oranges, cut into supremes
  • 3-4 tablespoons of chopped herbs: parsley, tarragon, chervil, or chives
  •  Kosher salt or fleur de sel

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400. Toast the cumin for both the carrots and the yogurt in a small pan set over medium heat until it becomes aromatic. Remove from heat, and set aside.
  2. Mix together the carrots, bay leaf, smashed garlic, thyme and olive oil in a bowl. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon cumin over the carrots, and mix again.
  3. Tip the carrot mixture onto a sheet pan, and spread evenly into one layer.  Season with salt and pepper and place in oven. Roast until the carrots are soft and beginning to caramelize, 30 to 45 minutes.
  4. Remove carrots from oven, discard aromatics and set aside to cool.
  5. Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. Combine blood-orange juice, vinegar, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl, and whisk to incorporate. Slowly add the olive oil while continuing to whisk, until the dressing is emulsified. Add the carrots to the bowl, and toss to combine.
  6. Make the cumin crema by combining the nonfat Fage greek yogurt, lemon juice and remaining toasted cumin in a mixing bowl.  Stir well to combine.  Add a pinch of salt.
  7. Assemble the salad on a large serving plate. Put the cumin crema in the center of the plate, and using the back of a spoon, spread it evenly across the bottom. Arrange the carrots on top of the greek yogurt. Sprinkle the onion and the nuts on top of the carrots, then add the supremes of blood orange. Sprinkle the herbs across the top of the salad, and finish with a pinch or two of salt. Make a mess when serving, so that everyone gets plenty of the cumin crema along with the vegetables.

Miso…hungry!

Have you ever had days when the hours flash by so quickly that by the time you’ve stopped spinning and finally have the chance to catch your breath, you realize that you’ve been running on fumes and that you are now officially…HANGRY?  Considering that I do not have that many mouths to feed (yet), this worries me a little…how am I going to feed co-dependents not so keen on fumes for sustenance?

All silliness aside, I have slowly been working on my repertoire of quick meals, precisely for these HANGRY times.  It also helps to be less than 10 minutes from a decent grocery store with organic produce.  Even in NYC, I was among the few denizens who did not routinely order delivery, to the consternation of my roommates.

One of the items I always have in my pantry is miso.  Made from fermented soybeans, miso is chock full of protein, vitamins, and minerals and adds a salty, sweet, earthy, and savory dimension to sauces, marinades, and soups.  It lends itself well to both traditional and modern cooking, and is extremely versatile.  I used it to make a quick side dish to pair with my Pan-Seared Sake Sea Bass the other night, and it made one hangry MD much happier after a long day.

IMG_3219 IMG_3218

Miso Butter Glazed Mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp butter
  • 16 oz variety of mushrooms – wiped clean and sliced if larger (e.g. crimini, oyster, shiitake)
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced with white and green parts divided
  • 1 tbl white (shiro) miso
  • 1/2 tbl water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp sesame oil

Instructions:

  1. Heat well-seasoned wok over medium heat.
  2. Melt 1 tsp butter and stir-fry white scallion parts and mushrooms, allowing some time between stirs for the mushrooms to get some color.
  3. Combine miso, water, and sugar.  Add to mushroom and white scallion mixture, tossing to coat.  Sauce will thicken slightly.
  4. Drizzle with 1-2 tsp sesame oil, toss in sliced green scallions, and remove from heat.  Serve immediately.

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Pan-Seared Sake Sea Bass with Ginger and Scallions (serves 2)

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz sea bass filet
  • 2 tbl canola oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • 3 1/4-inch slices of ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • ~2.5-3 tbl sake
  • 1/2 inch piece of ginger, julienned
  • 2 scallions, sliced thinly on diagonal, green parts only
Instructions:
  1. Bring sea bass to room temperature by leaving out on the counter for at least 10 minutes prior to cooking.  Season liberally with kosher salt and pepper.
  2. Heat a heavy skillet over medium high heat.  Add oil and heat, adding smashed garlic clove and slices of ginger to infuse the oil while it is heating.
  3. Once the ginger and garlic are fragrant, sear fish, skin side down, about 6 minutes, or until skin is golden and fish is 3/4 cooked.  Baste a few times with oil in the pan.
  4. Lower heat slightly to medium, turn fish over and cook 2 minutes more, until just cooked through.  Transfer to heated plate and keep warm.
  5. Remove ginger and garlic used to infuse the oil, add julienned ginger to remaining oil and lower heat while ginger cooks for ~10-15 seconds.
  6. Deglaze the pan with sake, scraping up browned bits.  Remove pan from heat, add scallions and stir to wilt slightly.  Spoon scallion and ginger mixture over the sea bass and serve immediately.

Lemon Roasted Asparagus

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 bunch asparagus
  • olive oil
  • lemon zest
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Wash asparagus and trim tough ends.  Pat completely dry.
  3. Toss with just enough olive oil to coat.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Grate fresh lemon zest over to taste.
  5. Roast until crisp-tender, ~10-15 minutes.

Longing for spring…ramps.

When I lived in New York, I lived only a few blocks away from the green market.  As a transplant from California and homesick for the amazing produce, I reveled in the bounty of summer and fall, when the market was laden with seasonal fruits and vegetables.  By winter, the market’s colors waned as the leaves in Central Park also disappeared.  But as soon as the first glimmers of spring came, I saw stirrings of the glorious greens to come.

It was at the green market that I first discovered ramps.  RAMPS!  I’m not sure exactly how my obsession began, but from the first time I brought these somewhat pricey alliums home, I could not get enough of them.  I made ramps with soft scrambled eggs, ramp pizza, ramp risotto, and ramp pesto.  Perhaps my obsession stemmed from knowing that their arrival meant the coming of warmth back to the City and the Park, which would regain the beautiful lush green that I enjoyed on my runs.

Back in California, I brought home a bunch of chinese chives* the other day to make dumplings.  With a large portion of the bunch remaining, I decided to pay homage to the versatility of this other member of the allium family.  They are wonderful paired simply with softly scrambled eggs, but I chose to make a simple soup with chives and tofu, and stir-fried them to accompany pan-seared tofu.  Chinese chives and tofu two ways.  Not quite ramps, but still delicious and evocative of meals from my mother’s kitchen.

IMG_3131Stir-Fried Chinese Chives with Glazed Tofu

Ingredients

2/3 block of organic tofu (10-12 oz), sliced

4 tsp canola or safflower oil, divided use

3/4 lb chinese chives, cut into 3 inch segments (about 3-4 cups)

1 tsp red chili flakes (or to taste)

1/4 tsp salt, or to taste

1.5 tsp ginger, minced

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1 tbl oyster sauce

Instructions:

  1. Heat a well-seasoned wok over high heat
  2. Add 2 tsp canola oil, swirling to coat wok evenly, and heat until hot.
  3. Add chives and red pepper flakes and stir-fry, letting chives rest on bottom and sides of wok several seconds between stirs, until chives are tender and slightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes.
  4. Season with salt to taste.  Set aside and keep warm.
  5. Wipe out wok and heat over medium-high heat.
  6. Add remaining 2 tsp canola oil and pan sear tofu slices on both sides until golden, about 3-5 minutes each side.  Set aside.
  7. Add 1/2 tsp sesame oil and swirl to coat bottom of the pan.  Add minced ginger and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add in oyster sauce, turn off heat, and return tofu slices to the pan, turning gently to glaze.
  8. Top stir-fried chives with the pan-glazed tofu and serve immediately.IMG_3123

* Apparently, raw chinese chives have quite the pungent odor, unlike their cousins the ramps.  It was their ‘fragrance’ that led J’s friend Bao, who is no stranger to the likes of fish sauce, kimchi, durian, and other pungent Asian foods and condiments, to comment on how my kitchen smelled like a ‘proper Asian home.’  If that is synonymous with “Asian supermarket,” I’m not sure that’s a good thing.  :-/