LARB!

June 13, 2008

Ah yes, the pleasures of the Thai Yum. When it turns summer and disgustingly hot, and you feel like your energy has been sapped from the oppressive weather, spicy and tangy Asian salads can be a refreshing and satisfying boost — and for the most part, they’re pretty healthy too.

Larb is one of my favorite Thai dishes. Chances are, if I am going to a Thai restaurant for the first time and they have Larb on the menu, its what I am going to be ordering — it’s one of those “benchmark” dishes because its so simple to make. Anyone can make a good Larb at home, because it doesn’t require difficult to obtain ingredients (fish sauce is easy to get these days) or technical skills to prepare. Larb was a huge subject of interest back when I was still involved on eGullet — it was one of those huge monster threads that kept on going, and going. The general rule of thumb is that If it’s a protein, you can larb it. I have to give fellow blogger tommyeats the credit for starting it, it was inspired genius.

Larb, Laab, Larp… doesn’t matter what you call it, let’s eat it! Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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Re-engineering the Classics: Charlie Deal’s Kung Pao Chicken

May 3, 2008

I’ve been wanting to do a post series on re-doing classic dishes in a healthier way for some time now. To start it off, I thought nothing would be better than giving props to someone who I thought that nicely re-engineered one of my favorite Sichuan Chinese dishes, Kung Pao Chicken.

Charlie Deal’s Jujube Restauant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina is known for its inventive Asian Fusion cuisine. The dish which struck me the most there was his Kung Pao, which is radically different and much more healthier than the one that is made in most Chinese restaurants, which typically has a great deal of oil and not really that much vegetable content in it, if at all. Most versions as served in the United States at Chinese-American restaurants just consist of Chicken, Peanuts, Hot Peppers, and maybe some chopped up celery as an accent flavor. In my opinion, the definitive version of the dish is published in Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land Of Plenty, which is one of the best and most authentic Sichuan cookbooks there is.

Here’s one of my favorite traditional versions, from Chengdu 1 restaurant in Cedar Grove, NJ:

IMG_7890

As you can see, it’s in a brown sauce, thickened with cornstarch, with basically no vegetable content in it other than water chestnuts and maybe some onion. It’s tasty, but not optimized for my current diet. It’s also heavily dependent on sopping the sauce up with rice, which leads to more carbyness ingestion.

Here’s another variation that I had at a Korean-Chinese place that I really enjoyed. Again tasty, but healthy, no.

Here’s another really good version of the classic at Mary Chung’s in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There’s no veggies in this at all. I can’t believe I used to eat like this all the time.

Here’s Charlie Deal’s version at Jujube Restaurant. The difference is dramatic — the vegetable to protein ratio is much higher, and he is using a lighter sauce, which is essentially just soy, Chinese Black Rice Vinegar (which gives the dish its amazing tang and brightness) and seasoned with Sichuan Peppercorns, a small amount of sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and dried Sichuan hot peppers. Another thing I like about this dish is that during dinnertime he does it in a completely vegetarian version using Soy chicken, which cuts down on the fat tremendously.

I loved this dish so much that I ate it on two of the three visits that I made to the restaurant so far. I also was determined to try to replicate it at home and make it part of our usual Asian stir fry night repertoire.

To make my version of this dish, you will need the following

8 oz “Soy Chicken” or Firm Tofu (that has had the water pressed out of it)
12 ounces Chicken Breast, cut up into small pieces (or omit to have completely vegetarian)
1 Bunch Scallions, chopped, whites and greens separated
1 large thumb Ginger, minced
6 cloves Garlic, minced
1 small Napa Cabbage
1lb of Baby or Shanghai Bokchoys or one big regular Bokchoy, chopped, hard and leafy parts separated
8oz of Mungbean Sprouts
8oz of Snow Pea Pods
1 oz peanuts
1 Tbsp Chinese Five Spice Powder
1 Tbsp Sichuan Peppercorns
1 Tbsp Cornstarch
10-15 Dried Sichuan Red Chiles or any other small dried red chile
1 Tbsp Sesame Oil
3 Tbsp Soy Sauce
2 Tbsp Chinese Black Rice Vinegar (Chinkiang grade preferable)
White Pepper to taste

Want to learn how to make this great dish? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more..

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Grilled King Oyster Mushrooms a la NYT

March 19, 2008

When we were called and asked to prepare a dish for Kim Severson’s “Fat Pack” article in the New York Times that the photographer could watch me cook that very weekend, we took one look in the refrigerator and noticed we had a package of great, big, phallic King Oyster eryngii mushrooms, along with our usual staples of soy sauce, hot chile peppers and scallions.

“How about grilled King Oyster Mushrooms?” Rachel said to Phaedra, the NYT Dining Section photo editor.

“Great! We’ll be there Saturday morning at 9am”.

The resulting recipe that was used in my photo that accompanies the piece — which was originally intended to be published but ended up on the cutting room floor — pretty much came together last minute as the photographer was setting up. My idea was to replace the fattening butter yaki that typically is used as the prime flavor component of this dish with something more like a teriyaki sauce or a Korean BBQ marinade, but with an Awase Miso and fresh chili punch, and using a small amount of molasses instead of sugar.

Grilled King Oyster Mushrooms

1 bunch Scallions
2 tsp Awase Miso paste
1 tsp Ginger, grated
1 clove Garlic pureed
1 small Hot Red Pepper, minced
1/4 tsp White Pepper, freshly ground
1 tsp Molasses
2 Tbs Soy Sauce
1 Tbs Rice Vinegar
2 Tbs Chicken Broth (optional, use water if a vegetarian dish is desired)
1 tsp Roasted Sesame Oil
1 pound King Oyster Mushrooms
1/2 tsp Sesame Seeds

Clean scallions and separate the white part from the green. Slice the scallion greens and reserve for garnish. Mince the scallion whitesand put in a bowl with the miso paste, grated ginger, garlic, minced red pepper, white pepper, molasses, soy sauce, rice vinegar, broth or water, and sesame oil. Stir to combine.

Begin heating your grill pan or outdoor grill. Lightly spray the grate with cooking oil, or use a silicone basting brush to apply a scant amount of oil.

Slice the king oyster mushrooms lengthwise into 1/3 inch thick planks. Brush one side of each mushroom slice with the glaze as you place it, glaze side down, on the grill. Then brush the tops of all the slices. Grill for 3-4 minutes on each side, turning when the underside is well marked and basting to use up the glaze.

Serve hot or at room temperature, garnish with reserved scallion greens and sesame seeds. Serve with brown rice as a side dish (serves 4) or main course (serves 2). The leftovers are great sliced and added to a salad.


Soup, Glorious Soup: Part 2, Beans and Grains

March 17, 2008

In Part I of “Soup, Glorious Soup” Rachel presented a variety of recipes for lentil soup. Now, she’ll share some ideas for using other legumes and whole grains in soups.

Chunky Bean and Vegetable Soup

The first recipe is for split pea. Split pea soup has always been one of my favorites – I make a vegetarian version that you’d swear was cooked with a ham hock. And, contrary to popular belief, it’s hardly necessary to soak beans before cooking them, as you will see in the second recipe. I just simmer for an hour or so before adding the other soup ingredients and my mixed bean soup is perfectly tender. The third recipe below is for an addictive minestrone. Finally, I present Mushroom Barley. I brought this soup over to a friends house for part of a dinner we were making together. Jason’s friend went crazy over it, the wife has asked for the recipe for her mother – she said it tasted just like her grandma’s. Even the kids liked it, and it’s vegan!

If you don’t read the rest, there’s NO SOUP FOR YOU! Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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Soup Glorious Soup: Part 1, The Pulse of Life (UPDATED)

March 16, 2008

Rachel has turned herself into a regular Soup Diva. Here’s the first in a series of articles about how to make some easy, healthy and nutrilicious soups. Take it away, Rachel.

Photo: French Lentil Soup.

In our Top 10 Lifestyle Changes list, we recommend adding beans and lentils (aka pulses to your diet. They are high in protein and fiber, while being low in fat. One of the primary ways we like to include legumes in our diet is in soups. Below are five lentil soup recipes. I didn’t even like lentils when we began all this healthy lifestyle stuff, back in October, but I’ve found many different varieties and recipes and have grown to love them.

In Part II, I’ll share some ideas for using other legumes and grains in soups.

Red Lentil Curry Soup

Soup’s on! Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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A NJ Benefit not to Miss with Great Food and Great Chefs!

March 14, 2008


The Big Salad

March 9, 2008

Julie: Please come, Elaine.

Elaine: No, no. How about if you bring me back something?

George: Sure, all right, what do you want?

Elaine: Um, hum, I don’t know.. . . A big salad?

George: What big salad? I’m going to the coffee shop.

Elaine: They have big salads.

George: I’ve never seen a big salad.

Elaine: They have a big salad.

George: Is that what I ask for? The BIG salad?

Elaine: It’s okay, you don’t…

George: No, no, Hey I’ll get it. What’s in the BIG salad?

Jerry: Big lettuce, big carrots, tomatoes like volleyballs.

George: You know, if it was a regular salad, I wouldn’t have said anything. But you had to have the BIIIIIG salad!


Steak Boriqua

February 28, 2008

Nothing, and I mean nothing, satisfies a man’s appetite like a good steak. But one of the problems of trying to lose weight is learning that “a good steak” is also by definition, high in fat content and also high in cholesterol. So what do you do? Well, one option is to go for the cuts of meat that are the lowest in fat content, such as Flank or London Broil. However, both of these cuts really need serious marination and flavor boost. I can think of no better preparation for these versatile economy cuts than to employ a few tricks from the Latino community. Specifically, the Puerto Ricans, or as they like to call themselves, La Comunidad Boriqua.

Adobo Marinated Flank Steak with “Boriqua Slaw” and Arroz con Gandules, yellow rice with pigeon peas.

Want to learn how to make steak the Boriqua Way? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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Turkey Burger Redux (UPDATED)

February 22, 2008

The last time we visited Turkey Burgers here on OTB, it was nearly a year ago. And while I think the rules of bold seasoning still apply — I’ve personally gone from turkey burger as occasional curiosity to turkey burger as virtual necessity. Turkey burgers and ground turkey meat in general has become a staple in our household now that we have gone down the healthy lifestyle route. And why shouldn’t it? It’s a very malleable protein, which is great at absorbing flavors, be it used in a burger, sausage, kebab, chili or even stir-fry dishes. And it shouldn’t surprise you that in future cooking posts, you’re going to see this ingredient creep up a lot.

This last weekend we got particularly burger crazy, as we wanted something easy to cook because we were all burned out travelling to Connecticut and bringing back our new dog, Kona, from the folks at Flora’s Pet Project. And it didn’t help at all that we were all couch potatoed when we got back and watched dietician-chef Ellie Krieger on Food Network cook up some particularly tasty looking DIY Diner Food.

Our first Turkey Burger was a bit of a cheat, as it involved the use of pre-made frozen burgers from COSTCO. All hail the mighty Kirkland! But we amped up this burger with our Giant Mushroom Chili that we made for the Superbowl along with a small amount of melted cheddar cheese, served on a whole grain burger bun. But it was a quick and easy lunch, and really satisfied that Chili Burger craving. Hell, the last time I had a real chili burger was back in August at The Varsity in Atlanta. This one was just as good, and nowhere near as bad for you. Next time I’m going to use use fresh ground turkey meat instead of COSTCO pucks.

But wait! There’s more burgers in store. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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All Hail the Egg Beater

February 22, 2008

Egg Beater Omelet with fresh spinach and summer yellow tomatoes, basil and brown rice

Breakfast is a meal that used to be treated as pure fuel for the morning rush — if I had the time with my busy lifestyle, I’d usually grab a buttery Kaiser roll with my choice of fried nitrate-enhanced meat and two fried eggs, and coffee in that all-too-familiar blue paper cup with the Greek iconography on it from a “roach coach” or the local deli on the way to work, and wolf it down, usually soiling my shirt in the process. It was high calorie, fattening, and probably had enough cholesterol in it to kill a rogue elephant.

With my recent lifestyle change, I now approach breakfast from a different mindset entirely. One, I see it as something that should be enjoyed and not rushed. Two, it most definitely is the most important meal of the day, but it also should not contribute to harming my health. So with that in mind, and with my current 110 cholesterol count as validation (in my test results prior to October, there was arguably more cholesterol than blood) I’ve become a huge fan of the Egg Beater.

Do you fear or adore the Egg Beater? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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