Monday, January 26, 2015

Thai Fish Curry with Coconut Milk

This is my new favorite dish -- a Thai Fish Curry with Coconut Milk.  A dish that most definitely deserves a spot in your weekday cooking repertoire.  In fact, I've made it twice in the past week.  It's light and fresh, and a snap to prepare.

It's a one pot (or wok) meal that comes together in a flash.  There's minimal prep (especially if you make the paste -- rehydrated red chile, shallot, and scallion -- in advance, but that only takes a minute or two).  You can use any type of white fish.  I've used Rockfish (aka striped bass) because it's local. Shellfish, such as shrimp, clams, and/or mussels would work just as well.

This fish curry is slightly spicy (just a tad, add more or less dried chiles as you see fit), a little bit salty (from the fish sauce), vaguely sweet (from the coconut milk), and incredibly fragrant (from the [Kaffir] lime leaves). Oh man, those lime leaves really make the dish pop.  And I love just about anything with fish sauce (it will become your new best friend in the kitchen, if it's not already).

All ingredients should be readily accessible, with the exception of the lime leaves, which can be somewhat difficult to track down.  That being said, the lime leaves are a major flavor component of this dish and should not be skipped.  The leaves are intensely aromatic.  They have a distinct lime-y and floral-y note.

I got my lime leaves at Whole Foods, but just about any Asian market should carry them.  Lime leaves freeze well.

FYI, for any pottery addicts out there like myslelf, these bowls are from one of my favorite potters Vivian Johnson.  Vivian is in her 90s and still going strong.  Love, love, love her work.

The shopping list: fish, coconut milk (full-fat), green onions, shallot, dried red chile, lime leaves, fish sauce, herbs to garnish (cilantro, Thai basil).

Skin, debone (or have your fishmonger do so), and cube the fish...

Serve with (brown) rice...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Homemade Vadouvan Spice Blend

Received a new cookbook for my birthday back in November (one can never have too many cookbooks; for me, cookbooks are better than shoes).  This one.  After perusing it, I bookmarked several recipes; the vadouvan spice mix was at the top of my list.

Vadouvan appears to be en vogue at the moment.  A few words about vadouvan...  Vadouvan is a French-ified curry spice blend.  The French influence comes from the addition of shallots and garlic. I've ordered vadouvan online from here and here, though was curious to make it myself.

Making vadouvan is a bit of a time commitment, not to mention that it involves a lengthy list of ingredients. But once I set my mind on something, there's no turning back.  So, not long thereafter on my day off, I found myself driving all over town in a frenzy, on a hunt for spices.  One spice shop, one Indian grocery store, and one additional trip to the grocery store to pick up what I couldn't find at the other two -- I managed to track down everything I needed (and a few extra things, why not?).

There's lots of chopping, stirring, simmering involved when it comes to vadouvan.  And after all that, you're still not quite done.  The mixture then needs to dry -- in a dehydrator or in the oven at a low temperature -- for several hours.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely.  While time consuming, there's no comparison between homemade and store-bought vadouvan. Not even close.

Chef Mourad Lahlou describes vadouvan best -- it's kind of like a vegetarian version of bacon bits. And who doesn't like bacon bits?  Crunchy bits of shallot and onion in a complementary, complex blend of spices.  It just works.  It's highly addictive.

Vadouvan is versatile.  Sprinkle it on just about anything from green salads, to grilled vegetables, to fish, to poultry, to pork, to lamb, to eggs, to popcorn, to rice and grains...

You can't go wrong with vadouvan brown butter...

Or vadouvan compound butter...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Roasted Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad

Bones.  They're not just for dogs.

I've enjoyed bone marrow, sliced in half lengthwise with coarse sea salt and toast, at restaurants on occasion. But there's a certain satisfaction when you make things yourself.  I want to see (and taste) the whole process, step by step.  This was my first time roasting bone marrow.  What a shame it took me so long.  Roasting bone marrow couldn't be any easier or more delicious.

Have you tried bone marrow?  Are you a fan?

I love discovering new flavors and textures.  Bone marrow is nothing short of pure decadence -- fatty, creamy, unctuous, custardy. 

Bone marrow might not be something you eat every day, but on occasion it's a deliciously rich treat. A food to enjoy on a cold, wintry day.  Something you'll want to eat slowly and savor.  Deeply satisfying.  I think there's room in the diet for these types of foods.

The traditional route is to roast the bones in the oven (for about 20 minutes), spread the marrow on some crusty bread, and top with coarse sea salt and black pepper.  A salad of parsley, capers, shallot, lemon juice, and olive oil is the perfect accompaniment.

FYI for my Washington, D.C., friends, I picked up the marrow bones from Garden Path Farm, Lancaster, PA (at the Silver Spring Farmers' Market, Silver Spring, MD), but I've seen them at several other farmers' markets around town.

Don't skip the parsley salad, it's a lovely, fresh component that counterbalances the richness of the bone marrow.  This simple little salad also pairs nicely with fish and meat.

I had my local butcher slice the bones for me. You can have the bones sliced either length-wise or cross-wise.

Serve with an earthy red wine...

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Mushrooms with Amaranth 'Polenta'

I'm not a trendsetter (am not up-to-date on the latest music; am happiest in shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops; could care less about what's "hip" or "in"; and am very content doing my own thing).  And even though I slightly oppose the idea of food trends (what's old, is new), I'm throwing out a prediction for 2015: alternative grains -- amaranth, buckwheat, farro, freekeh, kamut, millet, spelt, sorghum, teff, etc.  

There's nothing new or, for that matter, alternative about these grains.  They've been around for as along as we've been cultivating wheat.  Unfortunately, ancient grains have fallen off the radar due, in part, to the fact that less and less land is being devoted to growing these crops.

Which brings me to amaranth...

Amaranth is not a true [cereal] grain (or grass).  Rather, amaranth is considered a pseudo-cereal (or non-grass), along with quinoa and buckwheat.  Amaranth was a major food crop of the Aztecs. Today, much of the amaranth production has been replaced by corn.

There are 60 different species of amaranth.  Amaranth grows fast, requires less water to grow than does corn, and is easy to harvest.

What to do with amaranth...

You can pop it, make it into a sweet or savory porridge, or add it to soups, stews, salads, etc.

Today, I've prepared an amaranth 'polenta'.  A traditional polenta, of course, is made with cornmeal. However, when you simmer amaranth in stock or water, and finish with a pat or two of butter and grated cheese, it takes on the creamy consistency of a polenta.  Anybody who has made polenta (not instant polenta) knows that it requires constant attention, frequent stirring -- for a good hour.  By comparison, amaranth only needs about 20 minutes, with minimal stirring (bonus) to create a porridge-like texture.

Amaranth is gluten-free and wheat-free.  It's high in protein and contains all essential amino acids.
As compared to other grains, amaranth is higher in calcium, fiber, photyonutrients, etc.

So what does amaranth taste like??  It's nutty and earthy.  Amaranth is a blank canvas of sorts that takes on the flavor(s) of whatever you pair it with.  I'm particularly fond of its texture.  Amaranth is tapioca-like, in that the individual seeds have a 'popping' mouth-feel similar to tapioca pearls.

Used a plethora of mushrooms (yellow oysters, shiitakes, and creminis) to accompany my amaranth 'polenta', reconstituted porcini and trumpet mushrooms (umami) in mushroom broth (double umami), and a finishing dash of tamari (triple umami).

Also incorporated truffled gouda and Parmesan, which added another dimension of umami to the amaranth 'polenta'.  Umami galore.

These lovely yellow oyster mushrooms are from my friends at New Morning Farm.

It's hard to see in the photo below, but there's a tasty broth at the bottom of the pot.  Drizzle some over the finished dish for added umami flavor.