Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cilantro Shrimp Chinese Dumplings

Some people don't like the taste of cilantro. They say it tastes "soapy". Or that it tastes like medicine. I am not one of those people.

I like cilantro. I like its leaves, roots, stems and seeds (coriander). The roots are great for making curry pastes; the stems can be used in a pinch if you can't find a market that sells the whole plants. The leaves and seeds are used in dishes around the globe, from Thailand to Argentina. It is a must for fresh salsa and brings a unique piquancy to coconut grilled spareribs.

I also like shrimp and dim sum. So when Wandering Chopsticks chose cilantro for this month's Weekend Wokking challenge, I decided to make these dumplings. Traditionally, the filling is made with garlic chives rather than cilantro. When using garlic chives, it's necessary to blanch them first before mixing them with the shrimp. Using cilantro instead of the garlic chives, no blanching is necessary. Both the filling and the dough for the dumplings take very little time or effort. For people who like cilantro, this makes a wonderful appetizer. The recipe for the dough and the original recipe for the garlic chives filling come from Ellen Leong Blonder's wonderful Dim Sum, a book with clear, easy to follow recipes and beautiful, instructive watercolors.

Wheat Starch Dough

1 1/4 cups wheat starch (available in Asian markets)
3 TBS tapioca flour (also labeled tapioca starch)
1 TBS glutinous rice flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup boiling water
1 tsp oil

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Stir in water and oil. While the dough is still hot, turn out onto a board floured with 1 tablespoon of wheat starch. Knead, while it is hot, until the mixture is smooth. The dough should be similar to the consistency of mochi, soft but not sticky.

Divide the dough into thirds and roll each third into a six-inch log. Cut the log into six one-inch cylinders. Cover loosely with a damp cloth to keep from drying out.

Place a cylinder of dough cut-side up between two six-inch squares of parchment or wax paper. Press down with a the broad side of a cleaver to form a 3 1/2 inch circle. This is really simple and takes very little time to master. Peel away the parchment, fill with about 2 teaspoons of filling, pleat and seal. It's important that you fill each circle as soon as it is pressed because the dough will dry out quickly otherwise. Cover the filled dumplings with a damp towel until ready to cook.

Cilantro Shrimp Filling

6 ounces shrimp, peeled, deveined, and chopped in 1/4 inch dice
2 loosely packed cups of cilantro, leaves and stems, finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp cornstarch

If making by hand, chop shrimp into quarter inch dice. Finely chop cilantro. Mix together and add other ingredients. You can also make this using a food processor if you like. Combine ingredients in food processor. First add cilantro and pulse until finely chopped. Add shrimp and pulse briefly. Add remaining ingredients and pulse until just mixed. Place about 2 teaspoons filling onto each dumpling skin. Pleat dumplings and join. Flatten to make 2 inch patties.

Heat a seasoned frying pan that you can cover with a lid over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil. When the oil is shimmering and almost smoking, place about half the dumplings in the pan. Make sure they don't touch each other. Cook the dumplings for about 2 or 3 minutes on each side, pressing with a spatula to flatten slightly, until they crisp and begin to brown.

Holding the lid over the pan, pour in 1/2 cup of water and immediately cover. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 3 minutes, by which time the dough should be somewhat translucent. Remove the lid and raise the heat to medium and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes until the water evaporates. Turn the dumplings to cook until both sides crisp slightly and turn light brown. Transfer the dumplings to a plate, cover with foil and keep them warm in a low oven until all the dumplings are cooked and ready to serve. Unfortunately, these dumplings do not freeze well, so they are not something that can be made ahead of time.

I'm submitting this recipe to Weekend Wokking, a world-wide food blogging event created by Wandering Chopsticks to celebrate the multiple ways we can cook one ingredient. The host this month is BlazingHotWok. If you would like to participate or to see the secret ingredient, check who's hosting next month.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bakewell Tart--Daring Bakers Challenge

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

I put off doing this month's challenge until the last minute. I had just made a pear topped frangipane tart for our bookclub last month, so I didn't feel very enthusiastic when I learned what this month's challenge would be. It just didn't seem like much of a challenge. Which is not to say that it wasn't delicious; it was.

The recipe itself is simple and straightforward. Make a tart shell, layer it with a jam (traditionally cherry it seems), cover the jam with a layer of frangipane and bake it. Obviously, there are countless variations you can make by altering any or all of those three elements--using a chocolate crust, strawberry jam, or substituting walnuts for almonds in the frangipane. Maybe it's because I am by nature conservative (as Steve Earle sings "conservatively passionate, or passionately conservative" --a reference that perhaps only Americans will get), but I stuck to pretty much the traditional recipe. I did blind bake the shell, and the jam I used had cacao nibs in it, but everything else pretty much was by the book.

Bakewell Tart…er…pudding

Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Jasmine’s notes:
• If you cannot have nuts, you can try substituting Victoria sponge for the frangipane. It's a pretty popular popular cake, so you shouldn't have any troubles finding one in one of your cookbooks or through a Google search. That said, our dear Natalie at Gluten a Go Go has sourced some recipes and linked to them in the related alt.db thread.
• You can use whichever jam you wish, but if you choose something with a lot of seeds, such as raspberry or blackberry, you should sieve them out.
• The jam quantity can be anywhere from 60ml (1/4 cup) to 250ml (1cup), depending upon how “damp” and strongly flavoured your preserves are. I made it with the lesser quantity of home made strawberry jam, while Annemarie made it with the greater quantity of cherry jam; we both had fabulous results. If in doubt, just split the difference and spread 150ml (2/3cup) on the crust.
Annemarie’s notes:
• The excess shortcrust can be rolled out and cut into cookie-shapes (heck, it’s pretty darned close to a shortbread dough).
Sweet shortcrust pastry

Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

Jasmine’s notes:
• I make this using vanilla salt and vanilla sugar.
• If you wish, you can substitute the seeds of one vanilla bean, one teaspoon of vanilla paste or one teaspoon of vanilla extract for the almond extract

Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Thanks to Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar for hosting this month's challenge.

Friday, June 26, 2009

100 Vietnamese Foods to Try

Like most Americans, I was not familiar with Vietnamese food until the early 1980s. As a teacher to newly arrived adult immigrants, I was fortunate to be exposed relatively early to good Vietnamese cooking. Vietnamese culture puts a strong emphasis on respecting the teacher, and students who had little were generous in sharing gifts from their table.

I went on to live and work in several refugee camps in Malaysia and Indonesia--Pulau Bidong and Sungei Besi in Malaysia, and Pulau Galang in Indonesia. Although for the most part the camps in Malaysia provided less opportunity for the refugees to prepare their own dishes, still they did what they could to preserve the food they were used to. The photo at the top of this post shows children operating the mill to make soy milk and tofu. I had never been particularly fond of tofu before living on Bidong (too often in the US it was used as a substitute for meat in vegetarian dishes and just made the dishes taste wrong), but I began to eat it fairly regularly and liked it. It was on Bidong that I first tasted Banh Tieu, and I don't know that I've ever had one that tastes any better than those I had there. It was on Bidong that I also had my first Banh Mi, with onions and canned sardines in tomato sauce! This was during a stretch when the supply boats were having problems reaching the island because of rough seas. Although I don't really like sardines, the sandwich wasn't half bad.

The food was better on Galang. So were the conditions for the refugees. I think I first tasted bun rieu on Galang, at a student party. It was also on Galang that I first had tofu with lemongrass (Dau Hu Chien Xa Ot--if I remember correctly). This somehow did not make it on to Wandering Chopsticks list but it's probably my all-time favorite Vietnamese dish, something I could eat every day, and frequently did on Galang as it was a dining hall staple.

Most of the dishes I ate in Vietnam while living there for a year in 1994. We lived in Saigon near the Da Kao market and there were a number of good quan am/cafes and restaurants nearby. We have been back to visit twice since then and have eaten dishes from Can Tho to Hanoi. I am not fond of offal, innards, or sweet drinks, so I my list is incomplete in those areas. I was actually surprised to see how many of the 100 dishes I have tried.

Vietnamese 100 Foods to Try
(Those in boldface are the ones I've tried.)

1. Banh Bao (Steamed Bun)
2. Banh Beo
(Rice Flour Discs with Dried Shrimp)
3. Banh Bot Loc/Banh Quai Vac (Dumplings with Pork and Shrimp or just Shrimp)
4. Banh Canh Cua (Udon-like Noodles with Crab)
5. Banh Chung/Banh Tet (Lunar New Year Sticky Rice Cakes)
6. Banh Cuon (Rice Noodle Rolls)
7. Banh Gio (Steamed Triangular Rice Dumplings)
8. Banh Hoi (Rice Vermicelli Sheets)
9. Banh It Tran (Round Rice Dumplings with Pork, Shrimp, and Mung Beans)
10. Banh It La Gai (Nettle Leaf Dumplings)
11. Banh Khot/Banh Cang (Mini Savory Pancakes)
12. Banh La/Banh Nam (Steamed Flat Rice Dumplings with Pork and Shrimp)
13. Banh Mi Hot Ga Op La (French Bread with Sunnyside-Up Eggs)
14. Banh Mi (Sandwiches)
15. Banh Pa Te So (Pate Chaud)
16. Banh Tieu (Fry Bread)
17. Banh Tom (Shrimp and Yam Fritters)
18. Banh Trang (Rice Paper) Bonus points for eating soaked, no-soak, and toasted varieties.
19. Banh Uot ("Wet" Rice Noodle Sheets)
20. Banh Xeo (Sizzling Crepes) Bonus points if you've eaten both the palm-sized Central-style ones, and the wok-sized Southern-style ones with turmeric and coconut milk.
21. Be Thui (Beef with Roasted Rice Powder and Fermented Bean Curd)
22. Bo Bia (Spring Rolls with Chinese Sausage, Dried Shrimp, and Jicama)
23. Bo Kho (Beef Stew)
24. Bo Luc Lac (Shaking Beef)
25. Bo Ne ("Stand Back" Steak and Eggs)
26. Bo Nhung Dam (Beef Dipped in Vinegar)
27. Bo Nuong La Lot (Grilled Beef with Wild Betel Leaves)
28. Bo Tai Chanh (Beef Carpaccio with Lemon)
29. Bo Xao voi Khoai Tay Chien (Beef Stir-fry with French Fries)
30. Bo Xao Xa (Beef Sauteed with Lemongrass)
31. Bun Bo Hue (Hue-Style Beef Noodle Soup)
32. Bun Cha Hanoi (Hanoi-Style Rice Vermicelli with Grilled Pork Patties)
33. Bun Nuoc Leo Soc Trang (Soc Trang-Style Noodle Soup with Fish, Pork, and Shrimp) Bonus points for its more pungent cousin Bun Mam (Noodle Soup with Fermented Fish Broth)
34. Bun Rieu (Vermicelli Rice Noodle Soup with Crab Paste)
35. Bun Thit Heo Nuong (Rice Vermicelli with Grilled Pork)
36. Ca Bong Lau Nuong voi Mo Hanh (Roasted Catfish with Scallion Oil)
37. Ca Kho To (Braised Catfish in a Claypot)
38. Ca Phe Sua Da Phin (Iced Drip Coffee with Milk)
39. Canh Bi/Bau Nhoi Thit (Pork-Stuffed Winter Melon Soup)
40. Canh Chua Ca (Sour Fish Soup)
41. Ca Ri Ga (Chicken Curry)
42. Cao Lau (Noodle Soup with Pork from Hoi An)
43. Cha Ca Thang Long (Hanoi-Style Fish with Dill and Turmeric)
44. Cha Gio/Nem Ran (Spring/Egg Rolls) You only get points if you've eaten the Vietnamese egg rolls wrapped in rice paper, not the version with Chinese wheat egg roll wrappers. Bonus points if you've also eaten Central-style Cha Ram (Shrimp Egg Rolls) and Cha Gio Bap/Ram Bap (Corn Egg Rolls).
45. Cha Lua (Steamed Pork Loaf)
46. Chanh Muoi (Salty Lemonade)
47. Chao Tom (Grilled Shrimp Paste Wrapped Around Sugarcane)
48. Che Bap (Corn and Tapioca Pudding with Coconut Milk) or any other coconut milk-based che such as Che Chuoi (Banana Tapioca Pudding) and Che Ba Mau (Three Color Pudding).
49. Che Sam Bo Luong (Dessert Soup with Dried Dates, Dried Longans, Lotus Seeds, and Seaweed)
50. Che Troi Nuoc (Dough Balls in Ginger Syrup)
51. Chuoi Chien (Fried Bananas)
52. Chuot Dong (Southern Field Rats)
53. Com Ga Hai Nam (Hainanese Chicken Rice) must be eaten with #82.
54. Com Hen
(Clam Rice)
55. Com Lam (Sticky Rice Steamed in Bamboo)
56. Com Tam (Broken Rice)
57. Com Ruou (Fermented Rice Wine)
58. Cua Rang Muoi Tieu (Salt and Pepper Crab)
59. Dau Phong Luoc (Boiled Peanuts)
60. De (Goat)
61. Dia Rau Song (Raw Herb Platter)
62. Do Chua (Pickled Stuff ie. Carrots and Daikon)
63. Ga Nuong Xa (Grilled Chicken with Lemongrass)
64. Gio Thu (Head Cheese with Pig Ears and Tree Ear Fungus)
65. Goi Du Du Kho Bo (Papaya Salad with Beef Jerky)
66. Goi Cuon (Salad/Spring/Summer Rolls)
67. Goi Ga (Chicken Salad)
68. Goi Mit Ngo Sen (Young Jackfruit and Lotus Root Salad)
69. Hot Vit Lon (Fetal Duck Eggs)
70. Hu Tieu (Tapioca Noodles with Pork and Shrimp) Bonus points for both Saigon, with barbecued pork and shrimp, and Nam Vang (Phnom Penh) style with liver and ground pork.
71. Kem Flan
72. Lau (Hot Pot)
73. Mam Nem (Fermented Anchovy Sauce)
74. Mam Ruoc (Fermented Shrimp Paste)
75. Mi Hoanh Thanh (Wonton Noodle Soup)
76. Mi Quang (Turmeric Noodles with Pork and Shrimp)
77. Mi Vit Tiem (Egg Noodles with Duck and Chinese Herbs)
78. Mi Xao Don (Crispy Chow Mein)
79. Muop Tom Xao (Loofah and Shrimp Stir-fry)
80. Nem Chua (Pickled Pork Sausage with Shredded Pork Skin)
81. Nem Nuong (Grilled Pork Patties)
82. Nuoc Mam Gung (Ginger Fish Sauce)
83. Nuoc Mia (Sugarcane Juice)
84. Oc Buou (Apple Snails) or any other sea snails
85. Pho Ap Chao Bo (Pan-Fried Rice Noodles Sauteed with Beef)
86. Pho Bo (Beef Noodle Soup) bonus points if you've eaten filet mignon pho and for Pho Ga (Chicken Noodle Soup)
87. Rau Ma (Pennywort Juice)
88. Rau Muong Xao (Water Spinach Stir-fried)
89. Soda Xi Muoi (Salty Preserved Plum Drink)
90. Sinh To Bo (Avocado Shake)
91. Sinh To Ca Chua (Tomato Shake)
92. Sinh To Dam (Aloe Vera Shake)
93. Sup Mang Tay Cua (Asparagus and Crab Soup)
94. Tiet Canh (Blood Pudding)
95. Thit Heo Kho Voi Trung (Braised Pork with Eggs)
96. Tom Tau Hu Ky (Shrimp Paste Wrapped in Bean Curd Skin)
97. Tra Atiso
(Artichoke Tea)
98. Tuong Ot (Chili Sauce) bonus points for Vietnamese American Huy Fong Sriracha Chili Sauce and extra bonus points if you use it to make Sriracha Buffalo Wings
99. Xiu Mai (Meatballs)
100. Xoi (Sticky Rice)

The original link on Wandering Chopsticks can be found here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Red Pepper and Eggplant Salad

Summer in California's central valley is usually hot. By the first day of summer we have usually had numerous days in the 100s (40ºC). So far this year I don't know that we're reached the century mark more than once or twice. We've only had a few days that have even made it into the 90s. This is disappointing to me because I don't like to play golf when the temperature is below 90ºF.

One thing I don't like to do in the heat is cook. I do what I can to avoid heating up the house and forcing the air conditioner to come on. I cook stir-fries outside on a propane burner designed for woks or I grill foods on my barbecue. I also make more salads. This eggplant salad can be served warm, room temperature or cold. It comes from a very good collection of recipes, A Taste of Indochina, by Castorina and Stais. Besides having a number of delicious recipes, many of them are specifically written to serve two people.

Red Pepper and Eggplant Salad

6 to 8 baby eggplants, vertically sliced into eighths
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and cut into 1 inch (2.5cm) strips
3 1/2 ounces (100gr) wonton squares, cut in half, boiled, drained and tossed with a little oil to keep from sticking together
2 TBS oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced
3-4 red chilies, thinly sliced
4 green onions, cut into 2 inch lengths
1 TBS fish sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
2 TBS shredded basil

Heat the oil in a pan over medium/medium-high heat. Add eggplant slices and cook until just softened. Remove eggplant. Add garlic, red chilies, and green onions to pan. Cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add eggplants, roasted pepper strips, and drained wonton wrappers. Pour in fish sauce, sesame oil, and sugar and stir all ingredients together. Sprinkle with basil and serve. This may be served warm, at room temperature, or refrigerated for a day and served cold. If serving cold, wait to sprinkle on the basil.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cherry Jam with Buttermilk Oatmeal Biscuits

With a load of cherries on hand after harvesting our cherry tree, I was looking for ways to use them. I love eating them fresh, but there is a limit. Not wanting them to go to waste, I was looking for a way to incorporate them into recipes. This is a fairly straight-forward adaption of David Lebovitz's No-Recipe Cherry Jam.

Cherry Jam with Cacao Nibs

Put approximately 2 cups of cherries in blender. Blend until finely chopped. Add another cup or so of halved cherries. Add grated zest of one lemon and juice of half a lemon to cherry mixture. Stir in half a packet of pectin. Cook over medium low heat for about twenty minutes. Remove from heat and measure amount of mixture. Add 3/4 of that amount of sugar (for two cups of cherries, add one and a half cups of sugar). Return cherries and sugar to heat. Add about 1/4 cup of cacao nibs. Cook for about a minute, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and pour into jars.

The jam needed something to serve it on, so I decided to try Patricia Wells recipe for Oatmeal Biscuits. These are biscuits in the British manner, more akin to crackers than the breadlike biscuits us Yanks think of when we hear the word. Wells' recipe calls for whole milk and lemon juice; I substituted buttermilk. The biscuits are light and crumbly, excellent with jam or a sharp flavored cheese. They are remarkably easy to make.

Buttermilk Oatmeal Biscuits

adapted from Patricia Wells' At Home in Provence

3/4 cup (100 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup (100 grams) old-fashioned oats
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
2 tsp brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp baking soda
5 TBS (75 grams) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
3 to 4 TBS cold buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400ºF (200ºC)

In a food processor, combine dry ingredients and pulse until blended. Add the butter and pulse briefly until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add buttermilk and pulse just until the dough begins to hold together. (You don't want a ball of dough; it should just come together and hold if you push it together with your hands.)

Transfer the dough to a floured cloth. Roll about 1/8 of an inch thick (3mm). Cut the dough with two-inch (5-cm)cookie cutter. Transfer the rounds to a nonstick baking sheet. Prick each round 4 or 5 times with the tines of a fork.

Bake in preheated oven until firm and slightly puffed up, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet for 1 minute before transfering to wire racks to cool completely. Wells says the biscuits can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 week.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Terong Balado--Grilled Eggplant in Tomato Chili Sauce

Eggplant is one of those vegetables people either like or detest; it doesn't have a large base of take-it-or-leave-it eaters. People seem to really look forward to its season, or to react violently to the thought of it.

For years in the United States the only eggplants commonly found were the large globe eggplants and sometimes the long Chinese variety. In recent years in northern California a much greater variety of eggplants has appeared in the local farmers' markets. I imagine this is to satisfy immigrants from South and Southeast Asia. In addition to the Chinese, Japanese, and globe eggplants, there are now small green Thai eggplants, white ones, green brinjals, and ones that look like miniature globe eggplants.

Go to any Padang restaurant in Indonesia, or anywhere probably, and you are likely to be presented with a number of balado dishes. Balado is a tomato based chili sauce with shallots and garlic that is served atop beef, eggs, fish, or vegetables. One of the most common ways of serving it is on fried eggplant. In Padang restaurants a variety of dishes are brought to the table and you are charged by the number of plates you choose--kind of like dim sum. The food has been cooked in advance and is served at room temperature with rice. This makes it possible to present a number of dishes without rushing to prepare them. Terong balado is a great dish to prepare for a picnic. I grill the eggplant, but the traditional way is to fry them. For this particular recipe I used the so-called baby eggplants, which resemble miniature globe eggplants.

Terong Balado
1 pound of eggplants, (I wouldn't recommend globe), sliced in half and the flesh scored
3 to 4 shallots, minced
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
5 to 6 roma tomatoes, grilled, then peeled and chopped
4 to 5 red chilies, minced
1 cup of water
2-3 TBS oil
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste

Grill eggplants (or fry) till soft.
Fry shallots and garlic in oil until fragrant. Add chilies, tomatoes, and water. Cook over medium heat until liquid is reduced by a third. Add sugar and salt to taste and continue to cook until mixture is reduced to your liking. Pour over eggplants. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Watermelon and Chorizo Spanish Tostada

I have no fear of flying, yet I loathe the entire process of taking a flight these days. International flights are the worst. Everything about them has become more taxing--the check-in, the security, the lack of leg-room, the food--everything. The one improvement is being able to select what you want to watch. Instead of all four hundred passengers being forced to watch Mr. and Mrs. Smith there is now the chance to choose from a list of second and third rate movies and awful sit-coms. Each passenger now has the chance to choose her own poison.

Last summer my wife and I were flying back to California from Hong Kong. There had been a typhoon several days before and some flights had been cancelled. Our flight was overbooked and filled with passengers disgruntled with the abysmal service provided by Cathay Pacific. My wife's left arm was in a cast as a result of an attempted purse snatching a few nights before in Saigon (one travel tip--avoid late night visits to emergency rooms in Saigon unless your idea of a light read is Cormac McCarthy's The Road). It promised not to be an enjoyable flight.

One thing I stumbled across was some British series of a cook's tour of Spain. It seems the Spanish tourism board must be offering good money for cooks to document their travels around Spain. Mario Batali and Mark Bittman had a similar deal on PBS recently. In any case, there was one recipe for something like crostini with chorizo and watermelon. I couldn't remember the details after the flight, but I did tuck the idea away in the back of my mind. I happened to have some chorizo and watermelon in recently, so I decided to try making the dish. Fortunately, a search on the internet located the recipe. It's a bright, lively starter that could be paired with a salad or a pasta for a light meal.