Feeling green…

My brownstone apartment in NYC was south-facing, which meant that it was sunny and bright throughout the year, even during the short days of winter.  I took advantage of this to have my own little window sill garden in the city.  At one point, though, the herbs were more like a jungle – they liked the sun and plant food a little too much and I was too busy to prune them back.  Fortunately, my roommates didn’t seem to mind.

I just recently purchased a basil plant and was inspired to make an avocado based basil salad dressing, something akin to the dressing used for one of J’s favorite salads at Trader Joe’s – a chopped field greens salad with chicken, Israeli couscous, and a basil vinaigrette.

The avocado herb dressing is quite versatile, and can be adjusted to the preferred consistency – left a little thicker, it would be a great dip.  Made a little thinner w/ additional olive oil and/or lemon juice, it makes a luscious salad dressing that goes well with kale salads, radishes, and other bold greens.

IMG_3570 IMG_3567

Avocado Herb Dressing

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup avocado, cubed
  • 3.5 oz Fage plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 large garlic clove clove, smashed
  • 2 tbl chopped scallions
  • 2 tbl chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup packed basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • ~2.5 tbl ponzu, or 1 tbl white wine vinegar + 1.5 tbl lemon juice
  • 4-5 tbl good olive oil
  • 1.5 tbl honey
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • freshly ground pepper
  • red chili pepper flakes (optional)

Instructions:

Place all of the above ingredients in a food processor or small blender and process until smooth.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  If dressing is too thick, add water in small amounts to thin dressing to desired consistency.

Dress salad and enjoy!

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back to basics . . .

Sometimes, you just want to strip things back to the basics.  Unfortunately, life really doesn’t seem to work that way, instead only getting more complicated with time.  Growing old makes one long for simpler times, as cliche as this may be.

Lately, I have felt as though I am constantly in ‘fight or flight’ mode, trapped by circumstances beyond my control and to which I can only react.  I have been trying to make the best of it and to focus on what I can do, but it is hard not to worry and fret about the things beyond my reach or influence.  Hence, back to basics this weekend for me, and focusing my energy on even mundane things that keep me centered.  I need to fight my tendency to look at things from too many angles and just pare things down.

College was my first time away from home and also my first time being truly away from the comfort foods of my mother’s and grandmother’s kitchen.  There were times when I really did not find anything appealing to eat in the dining halls … and since I felt guilty eating out when I already had a meal plan and didn’t really have the funds to be doing so all the time, I had to figure out other ways to adapt.  One of them was by simply steaming tofu with a little soy sauce, scallion, and sesame oil, which were readily available at the very consistent (and boring) salad bar.   J claims to have taught his cousin Nancy this ‘dish,’ but I think anyone with Asian roots would have thought to put these ingredients together instead of eating raw, naked tofu on a pile of lettuce.  Regardless, it was a tasty, easy, and basic combination that tasted of home, evidently for all of us!

I have since prepared tofu many different ways beyond this basic preparation, and a day like today called for comfort food.  Enter: steamed fragrant jasmine rice, stir-fried seasonal sugar snap peas with ginger and garlic, and this robustly-flavored tofu dish:  Black Pepper Tofu.  A riff on a familiar dish, inspired by none other than Ottolenghi.

I ran across the recipe in BOTH my Ottolenghi cookbook and Food52’s Genius Recipes cookbook, which attests to its flavor and appealing textures.  I had to modify it, though, because 11 tablespoons (150gm) of unsalted butter does not belong in my comfort food repertoire…

IMG_3543

Black Pepper Tofu (serves 2)

Ingredients:

  • ~3 tbl canola or grapeseed oil, divided use
  • ~9.5-10 oz (270 gm) firm tofu (1/2 block)
  • cornstarch, for dusting
  • 3 small shallots, thinly sliced
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1.5 tbl finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 4 fresh mildly spicy chiles, thinly sliced
  • 1.5 tbl dark soy sauce
  • 1.5 tbl low sodium light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp black bean soy sauce
  • 1 tbl sugar, or to taste
  • 1.5-2 tbl coarsely crushed black peppercorn (adjust to taste)
  • 6 scallions, cut into 3 cm (1.25 inch) segments
  • sesame oil, optional
  • Instructions:
  1. Cut tofu into 1 inch square cubes.  Toss tofu with cornstarch to coat, shaking off excess.
  2. Heat 2 tbl oil into a large well-seasoned wok over medium-high heat.  Add half of the tofu cubes to the oil in a single layer.  Pan-fry, turning them around as you go, until they are golden all over and have a thin crust.  Transfer finished tofu onto paper towels and repeat with second batch.   (You may need to use additional oil for the second batch.)
  3. IMG_3557Drain remaining oil and wipe out the wok.  Add 1 tbl oil to the wok over medium heat.  Add shallots, chiles, garlic, and ginger.  Stir-fry, stirring occasionally until the aromatics become softened and fragrant.  Add soy sauces and sugar and stir, and then add the crushed black pepper.  Adjust seasoning to taste.
  4. Add the tofu to warm it up in the sauce for about 1 min.  Stir in the green onions, and drizzle with a few drops of sesame oil, if using.  Serve hot with steamed rice.

IMG_3542    IMG_3548

On carrots and Mother’s Day

I wasn’t able to visit my mother for Mother’s Day, but of course she was in my thoughts as we all honored our mothers and all that they have done for us.  It only becomes clearer with time how much they have given and continue to give.

I love to cook because one of my favorite memories of my mother is her willingness to come home and try out new recipes and flavors with us, even when she was working full time.  She would come home after sharing lunch with her diverse co-workers and interrupt our usual weekday rotation with novel recipes like salmon hand-rolls and other ideas she would get from her friends.  Before kids, she would even send my dad to work with home-made cream puffs.  We were all lucky.  She does best with what she knows, and what she knows, she does extremely well.  And now dad has decided to join the fun and is starting to experiment in the kitchen, too.  My sisters blame Food Network and Bobby Flay – I think it’s also a way for him to find a new hobby and give my mother a break in the kitchen.

I haven’t been posting much because I’ve been a bit swamped, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been in my kitchen.  I simply retreat to simple salads and stir-fries.  And I try to find ways to simplify prep…like in this salad, a version of Ottolenghi’s Spicy Moroccan carrot salad.  I was so excited to find preserved lemon at Trader Joe’s that I had to buy the entire jar to bring home for experimenting (I get excited by little things like this).

I decided to post this today because I have recently been obsessed with rainbow carrots.  Today, I am reminded that as a little girl, my mom would give me carrot sticks to munch on whenever she shredded them for cooking.  And I’d happily snack on them, not simply because she told me ‘they make your eyes bright,’ but because I actually loved the crunchy sweetness.  ::shrug:: I was a weird kid with healthy tastes.

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Moroccan-spiced Roasted Carrot Salad (adapted from Ottolenghi’s Spicy Moroccan carrot salad in Plenty)

Ingredients:
1 lb rainbow carrots, cut into 3 inch batons
1-2 tbl olive oil, plus extra to finish
2 shallots, thickly sliced
1/2 tsp honey
salt
pinch ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground coriander
3/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/2 tbl Meyer lemon juice
1/2 tbl chopped preserved lemon
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped, and extra for garnish
1/4 cup Greek yogurt, chilled

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. In a medium bowl, toss together carrot batons, ~1 tbl olive oil, shallots, honey, salt to taste, and spices.
3. Transfer spiced carrot mixture and unpeeled garlic onto a lined cookie sheet and roast until carrots are caramelized and tender-crisp, about 15-20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. Squeeze roasted garlic out of their skins, smash, and whisk together w/ lemon juice, 1 tbl olive oil, and chopped preserved lemon.
4. Add the roasted carrots to the lemon-garlic mixture and season with salt to taste.
5. Before serving, stir in the cilantro, taste and adjusting the seasoning as needed. Serve with a dollop of the yogurt and drizzle of olive oil as well as cilantro garnish.

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.

Unplugged.

J and I decided that for our next brief trip (all of 4 days!), we were going to be completely unplugged from work.  Since starting, I have yet to be separated from my work inbox, with its daily onslaught of patient messages, calls, labs, staff messages, prescription refills, etc, etc.  I try to clear it by the end of the day, only to log in several hours later to find that it is once again filled with new things to address.

To that end, I brought my phone along on our trip but otherwise made a point of leaving my computer at home.  I admittedly had separation anxiety and was fidgeting to check in as day 1 approached.  By day 2, I couldn’t believe how it felt to be unplugged.  It. was. so. l-i-b-e-r-a-t-i-n-g!  As grateful as I am to have an electronically medical record and the technological advances we have, it has so blurred the lines between work and home that I never feel completely done with work.  It makes it hard to find some semblance of work-life balance…I went into this field knowing it could and would consume most of my waking hours and energy, but I do not think this means neglecting personal priorities.  Physician, heal thyself – otherwise, how can I possibly hope to care for others?

And so, during one of our mornings free, I made this lovely frittata – it felt celebratory in more ways than one, featuring spring’s fresh and sweet asparagus.

IMG_3433 IMG_3439Asparagus, Leek and Mushroom Frittata (recipe adapted from here)

Ingredients:

  • 1.5-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1 12-ounce bunch thin asparagus, trimmed, cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 cup sliced stemmed shiitake mushrooms
  • 8 large omega-3 eggs
  • 1 cup diced Gruyere cheese, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions:

  1. Preheat broiler.
  2. Heat olive oil in 10-inch-diameter nonstick skillet over medium heat.
  3. Add leeks and sauté 4 minutes. Add asparagus and shiitake mushrooms, sprinkle lightly with salt, and sauté until tender, about 6 minutes.
  4. Whisk eggs, 3/4 cup Gruyere cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in medium bowl.
  5. Add egg mixture to skillet; fold gently to combine. Cook until almost set.
  6. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup Gruyere cheese and Parmesan cheese over. Broil until frittata is puffed and cheese begins to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve.

“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.

On sweet revenge…

It’s been a busy week, with a few more downs than ups after a fun-filled birthday weekend.  I’ve started developing a little carpal tunnel syndrome from all the chart documentation I’ve been doing since I started working.  The EMR is both a blessing and a curse.  I spend more time in from of a computer than I do with my patients, and no, that is *not* why I went into medicine.

That said, it’s been a full week, too.  March is a month full of joyful birthdays!  One of my closest childhood friends has her birthday on St. Patrick’s day, so her birthday is always doubly lucky and green ;).  I dug out the green shirt and made a vibrant green salad to celebrate the day, even though I couldn’t join her for a green beer!

IMG_3361Green Salad with Cilantro-Lemon Vinaigrette (inspired by this recipe)

Ingredients:

For the dressing (makes extra, so save for another salad!):

  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 small shallot, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1 tsp honey
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad:

  • 2 cups arugula
  • 1/2 avocado, cut into thin wedges
  • 2 tbl shelled salted pistachios
  • 8-10 (about 1/2 lb) spears fresh spring asparagus
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • shaved parmesan (optional)

Instructions:

  1. In a blender, blend the oil, lemon juice, shallot, honey, and 1/4 cup of the cilantro. Season the dressing with salt and pepper.
  2. Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Fill a bowl with ice water. Cut off 1 inch of the asparagus tips and cut stalks into 2 inch segments.  (If using larger asparagus, cut off 1 inch of the asparagus and cut each tip in half lengthwise. Using a peeler or mandoline, shave the asparagus spears lengthwise.) Blanch the asparagus tips and segments (or strands) in the boiling water until just heated through, 10 seconds. Drain and transfer to the ice water to chill; drain well. Pat dry and transfer to a bowl.
  3. Add the arugula, pistachios and the remaining 1/4 cup of cilantro leaves to the asparagus.  Toss with a little dressing.  Add avocado and parmesan (if using) and drizzle with dressing as desired.  Enjoy!

And as a reward for a looooonnnnggg and tiring week, what better way to forget the week’s worries by indulging in a bowl of chocolate-y goodness?  Which, surprisingly, isn’t all that unhealthy for you, packed w/ fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3s?  Oh, sweet revenge!

Mexican Chocolate Chia Pudding with Strawberries IMG_3373

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup chia seed
  • 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or milk of choice)
  • 5 to 6 medjool dates, seeds removed**
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons cocoa powder (depends on the intensity of the cocoa powder)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (use 1 tsp if using unflavored almond milk)
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cinnamon (depends on how spicy you like your chocolate!)
  • pinch of sea salt

Instructions:

**You need a high-powered blender such as a Vitamix**

  1. Put chia seed in bottom of blender and add almond milk and dates.  Allow chia seed to soak up milk and become gelatinous, at least 60 minutes, but you could also soak it for longer.
  2. Add cocoa powder, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt and blend at high speed until very, very smooth.
  3. Spoon into serving dishes/bowls and refrigerate until set.  Garnish with shaved chocolate and strawberries and enjoy!

** instead of dates, you can also simply use the sweetener of your choice – a little honey or agave syrup would work well!