Categories
American Index Korean Noodles

Not watermelon, sorry.

[one_half]Dad, do you know what we haven’t had in a really long time? Watermelon.

[I] feebly explain to my daughter that we only have watermelon in the summertime. A challenging story to sell when grocery stores here insist upon displaying those insipid “personal watermelons” year-round. Sadly, Esme will wait roughly one sixth of her life to eat it again.

You mean when I’m ten? Yes, Esme, you may certainly eat watermelon when you’re ten. Maybe even before that. Poor kid. As the parent responsible for the Korean half of her hapa, I definitely feel her pain.

Esme hails from a long line of watermelon-eating individuals. I’ll always associate watermelon with the church picnic. In particular, Korean church picnics in The Greater Los Angeles Area—though I’ve come to learn, from our stint in the midwest, that many properties of the Korean church picnic are highly conserved across states:

  1. Lots and lots of subak (watermelon).
  2. Bad volleyball.
  3. Other competitive games in which the “prizes” consist of bulk packaged sundry items (toothpaste, soap, gift-packaged socks with Playboy Bunny logos on them…).
  4. The Holy Trinity of picnic foods: kimbap, kalbi, and japchae.

It recently occurred to me that, of those foods, I had never before made my own japchae. I felt that I owed it to myself to give it a shot, and that I owed it to my daughter to deliver, in the absence of watermelon, an equally salient element of my childhood summers.

I quickly learned that japchae is not a dish that one can just bang out in an hour. At least I can’t. A mixture of cellophane noodles, vegetables, and beef, this dish comprises multiple components that are individually seasoned and require different cooking times. So if you have the luxury of a lazy weekend day, that’s the time to take this on. It’s well worth it. And it makes sense to make a lot at once, as the flavors continue to develop over time.

* * * * *

Japchae (Korean cellophane noodles with vegetables and beef)
Adapted from my sister’s recipe.

6 dried or fresh shittake mushrooms
6 dried or fresh wood ear mushrooms
8 oz dry dangmyeon (sweet potato or mung bean) noodles
8 oz lean, choice beef, cut into strips about 2 inches long (freeze slightly before slicing)
3 T grapeseed or vegetable oil
water
1/2 T sesame oil
1/2 T soy sauce
black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
kosher salt
1 julienned carrot
8 oz frozen leaf spinach*, thawed and drained (or a comparable amount of sigumchi namul)
1/2 tsp chopped garlic
sugar
1 chopped scallion
1 T toasted sesame seeds
optional: 1/2 crisp Asian or Korean pear, julienned

The seasoning:
3 T soy sauce
2 T sugar
1 T honey
1 T rice wine or dry vermouth1 T sherry vinegar
1 T sesame oil
1 T ground, toasted sesame seeds
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 chopped scallion
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp chopped garlic

*I used chopped spinach this time, since it’s what I had, but I was unhappy with how it seemed to disappear. Larger pieces of spinach do lend a relevant texture, flavor, and appearance to the dish.

If using dried mushrooms, rinse briefly and soak them in warm water for about 30 minutes or until soft. Soak the noodles in lukewarm water. (A 9″ x 13″ pan is convenient for this.)

While the mushrooms and noodles are rehydrating, mix ingredients for the seasoning. Add
4 T of seasoning to the sliced beef and knead to mix flavors. Stir-fry quickly over medium-high heat in a heated, nonstick pan. Remove meat from the pan as soon as it turns brown, transfer to a very large bowl, and set aside. As long as the liquids do not burn, there is generally no need to clean the pan between uses.

Once the noodles have lost their stiffness (about 30 minutes), drain and cut them into 5-inch long pieces. Stir-fry in 5 T of seasoning, 1 T grapeseed oil, and 1/4 C of water until the noodles are slightly underdone. Do not discard the remainder of the seasoning, as you will need it to finish the dish. Add cooked noodles to the large bowl, next to the cooked beef.

Squeeze excess water from the rehydrated mushrooms using paper (or cotton) towels. Remove stems from the shittake mushrooms and slice thinly. I love the shape and texture of wood ear mushrooms (also found in Asian markets as “black mushrooms,” or simply, “black fungus”), so I cut them rather coarsely into pieces roughly the size of a quarter.

Mix 1/2 T each of soy sauce and sesame oil with a dash of pepper, use it to coat the mushrooms, and stir-fry over medium heat until the shittakes are soft and golden brown. Remove and transfer to the large bowl.

Stir-fry sliced onion over medium heat in 1 T grapeseed oil with 1/2 tsp kosher salt until soft. Do not allow them to become overly brown. Remove and transfer to the large bowl.

Stir-fry carrot strips over medium heat in 1 T grapeseed oil with 1/2 tsp kosher salt until
al dente, adding a spoonful of water when necessary to prevent the carrot from drying out. Remove and transfer to the large bowl.

If using sigumchi namul, add directly to the large bowl. If using thawed or freshly blanched (and shocked) spinach, cut into 2-inch lengths. Sauté for a few minutes in about 1 T grapeseed oil with 1/2 tsp chopped garlic, a dash of black pepper, 1 tsp kosher salt, and a sprinkle of sugar. Remove, and add 1 chopped scallion and 1 T sesame seeds. Transfer to the large bowl.

Mix all vegetables with noodles and beef in the bowl with about 1 T of the seasoning. Adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Serve warmed or (more commonly) at room temperature, garnished with strips of fresh pear.

I know that some Asian cultures frown upon serving multiple starches simultaneously. Koreans, fortunately, are not afflicted with this condition. Serve the japchae as an entree or as a side—we’re pretty easy. But for God’s sake, serve it with steamed, white rice. Some people go so far as to serve it over rice (japchae-bap), but I’m generally not an “over rice” kind of guy.

I should note that this is not the most authentic recipe. Specifically, ginger and sherry vinegar are not typical components of the seasoning. They do, however, give this dish a brightness that I find refreshing. Garnishing with the Asian pear further lightens the dish.

* * * * *

So. Did Esme buy it? You’ll recall that my daughter is a small eater. I haven’t had the best record cooking for her lately, so I was pleased (and mildly shocked) that she ate this. It somewhat lessened the sting of not being able to give her watermelon.

Dad?
Yes, honey.
Do you know what else we haven’t had in a really long time?
What’s that?
Peaches. [/one_half]

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Categories
Chinese Index Noodles Sauces Vegan

Ginger scallion noodles

[one_half][O]ccasionally, a shockingly simple combination of ingredients will transcend the sum of its parts. Marcella Hazan’s Chicken with two lemons is a notable example. David Chang’s ginger scallion sauce is another. Both now make regular appearances in my weekly diet.

If you follow this blog, or say, talk to me for about five minutes, you’re likely to get the impression that (1) I am a hardcore carnivore, and (2) I have recently become more than a little obsessed with David Chang. (But you know, not in like a threatening way … More like, You are my culinary soulmate. Let’s hang out together; maybe check out some antiques! Text me?) It’s true. I am a big fan of the meats (and David). So honestly, when I first read this recipe excerpted on Amazon.com, I was a bit dubious that a vegan dish could elicit such a passionate response from a devout porkatarian like Chang. I just didn’t get it. It’s basically a bunch of raw onions and ginger. How good could it be? I’m not even a huge ginger guy. But there wasn’t much to lose, so I gave it a shot.

As my sister described in her über-popular guest post, it ain’t easy to impress my mother in the kitchen. The one dish I remember making for her that she liked was a rice salad that I saw on Lidia’s Italian Table. She liked it so much, she told me how she planned to make it herself:

I’m not going to use cheese. I’m going to make my own way. Some chamgireum, a little bit of gochujang, some gim …
So you’re basically going to make bibim bap.
Yeah.

Mom was visiting from LA, and I was pretty certain she’d never had this before, so I made her the ginger scallion sauce. She was, as always, deeply suspicious of my measuring the ingredients. She’s constantly giving me a hard time about this.

Why did you measure that?
I just wanted to make sure I was close. It doesn’t have to be exact, but the ratio should be close.
[disapproving silence]

She was actually most excited about trying the fresh ramen noodles, which she had never had before. We ate lots of the instant stuff growing up. Sapporo Ichiban, Original Flavor, soup base diluted two-fold. I joke with my Asian friends all the time about this. How much soup base does your mom use? To a man: half. My mom actually felt the need to remind me of this fact. You know, you should only add half of the powder. Yes, Mom. I remember. And I don’t eat instant ramen.

Bottom line: Not only were the noodles a hit, my mom ate the noodles, continued to spoon more of the sauce onto her rice, and started listing things that she would use that sauce on. Bibim bap. Brown rice noodles (good call). Mook (another excellent call). Dad’s really going to like it. Jason might not like it, because he doesn’t like ginger. She ate the rest of the sauce the next day while I was at work, and asked me to buy more green onions on the way home. And then went out and bought green onions herself. She made the sauce herself that night, and—I am not shitting you—measured  the ingredients. I could not believe what I was seeing. Mom, are you actually MEASURING that??? She short of shushed and waved me off. I didn’t push it, and instead took it as the greatest possible compliment. She was so intent on reproducing the recipe that she sucked it up and used measuring spoons. I’m 38 and I’ve never seen that happen. Mom also emailed me several times after she went home to ask me where I thought she might be able to find usukuchi and exactly what kind of sherry vinegar to buy.

So what is it about this dish that makes it so magical? It’s the transformation that occurs when you combine ingredients that, if taken alone, would be unpalatable to most people. The intensity of the onions and ginger is cut by the oil. The oiliness is mitigated by the acid. The sauce does not taste overwhelmingly of onions or ginger, but instead adopts an emergent third flavor that is robust and clean. It gives you the sensation (which I rarely get from vegan food) that you’re eating something substantial. And it’s fucking delicious.

* * * * *

Ginger scallion sauce
from Momofuku
(dresses roughly 6 – 8 four oz servings of noodles)

2 1/2 C thinly sliced scallions (greens and whites; from 1 to 2 large bunches)
1/2 C finely minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 C grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 1/2 tsp usukuchi (light soy sauce)
3/4 tsp sherry vinegar
3/4 tsp kosher salt, or more to taste

Mix.

That’s the whole recipe. The additional tips Chang offers are: correct the seasoning (if necessary) and allow the mixture to sit for 15 – 20 minutes. That’s it. Of course, being who I am, I couldn’t possibly let you off the hook without offering a few tips of my own.

Ingredients Since scallions and ginger play such a prominent role in this recipe, it stands to reason that you want those particular ingredients to be as fresh as possible. It’s usually pretty easy to find fresh scallions. My go-to neighborhood grocery does not generally have good fresh ginger. How can you tell? It should be firm, fragrant, and have smooth skin. Break off the size you want from a larger piece. If it is dry and fibrous on the inside, dump it! And make a mental note to scold your grocer. It is worth being anal about this. I get mine from a Chinese market, because I know that it’s high turnover.

Re: usukuchi. This is a type of soy sauce that is lighter, sweeter and saltier. Kikkoman and Yamasa are common brands. If you can’t find it, you could substitute 1 tsp of regular (not low sodium) soy sauce. You may need to add a bit more salt to taste.

Prep My only comments here are about the ginger. Since the skin is very thin, you can remove the peel easily and quickly by scraping it with a spoon. A vegetable peeler also works. Can you use a microplane here, instead of mincing? You could. I like knife work, so if a recipe calls for mincing, I generally do it with a chef knife. The reason I don’t use a grater or a microplane to mince is that I find that doing so releases a lot more juice. You also end up with very fine strings instead of small pieces, so the texture is different.

Yield I usually don’t discuss yield, because people tend to have their own ideas about what constitutes a “serving.” But in this case, the book claims that the recipe makes about 3 cups. Not the case. The sliced scallions take up space because they’re little rings. When you add liquids, they occupy a lot of the empty space, and on top of that, the scallions eventually wilt. So you get about 1.5 cups, which isn’t too bad. Correspondingly, I add about half of what’s recommended of the sauce to noodles, and that works out about right.

Use The sauce can be deployed as a general, magical condiment. As presented above, it works great with noodles. What kind of noodles? In Chang’s world, ramen is king. But he acknowledges that fresh ramen is not always so easy to come by. When I don’t feel like hoofing it all the way to J-town, I have been known to use fresh chow mein noodles (known in NY as lo mein), which can be found at virtually any Chinese supermarket, and even some American ones. I’ve also had good luck with what Chinese markets call “vegetarian” noodles, which are eggless and contain alkaline salts (sodium and potassium carbonate). Thus, they are basically the same as ramen noodles. And as my mom brilliantly notes, this sauce would be fantastic on brown rice noodles. I don’t recommend using soba noodles. Why? Because craft, hand-cut soba noodles are quite delicate and I think would be overpowered by this sauce. I find the dried soba noodles you can get at the supermarket to be more or less inedible.

Putting the dish together If using fresh noodles, cook about 4 oz of noodles per person in boiling water that has been adequately salted. I cannot stress this enough. It’s striking how much flavor these noodles have if properly seasoned. If not, they taste like nothing. I like my noodles hot, so rather than shocking them, I cook until almost done. With fresh noodles, you need to start checking at about 2 minutes. When they are softened, but still quite toothy, remove from heat and drain. Add about 3 T of the sauce, and mix. If desired, garnish with sliced scallions, togarashi, and any number of other condiments: meat, pickles, a fried egg, pan-roasted cauliflower, etc. Serve immediately.

What’s up with the picture? If you check out the accompanying picture in the book, you’ll see Chang stuffing his face with some ramen noodles that have brown stuff on them. That’s not the ginger scallion sauce (which is presumably what’s in the tiny bowl in the center). My guess is that it’s hoisin sauce, or some liquid from the sliced pork belly nearby, which likely contains hoisin. [/one_half]

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sliced scallions and minced ginger

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Categories
Index Italian Noodles Pasta Vegetarian

Spaghettini with green garlic and oil

[one_half][F]ellow lo-temp cooking freaks can rest assured that my suburban sous vide rig is up and fully operational. I have so far been using it to make perfectly cooked eggs, unconventionally moist chicken breast, and most recently, a smokeless pastrami. Descriptions of all will come in due time. But I have been meaning to post about green garlic, and given the rapidly changing season, I felt I should do so while it is still actually available.

I like garlic so much that I have to physically restrain myself from automatically tripling it in every recipe. I’ve had dishes in my life that, even for me, had too much garlic—but I can probably count them on one hand (for you Columbians: garlic chicken at the sadly departed La Rosita was one of them). When people make faux knee-slapping jokes about “making sure that we all have garlic” so as not to suffer from one’s bad breath, I profoundly don’t get it. Garlic smells good. It smells like food.

So I was myself surprised when it hit me one day that I had never actually worked with green garlic. I’ve heard people rhapsodize about the ingredient and it always sounded great to me, but I guess I never got around to it. Availability is generally limited to the first month or two of spring, so I was determined not to miss out this year. For those of you who are unfamiliar, most of the garlic we buy comes in the form of mature bulbs, which have been cured and stored dry. Green garlic refers to young garlic plants whose bulbs have not yet differentiated into cloves. When very young, they look more or less like green onions. As they mature, the stalks broaden, and they begin to resemble leeks. They are quite a bit more delicate in flavor than mature garlic, and can, in fact, be eaten raw with little discomfort. When cooked, they take on a nutty flavor, as well as a sweetness and texture one might expect from onions or leeks.

A couple weeks ago, I triumphantly returned from my local farmers market with bunches in hand. Problem was, most of the articles about green garlic I could find online mostly discussed the very young variety, of which the entire stalk can be used. Mine were of the leeky variety, and I wasn’t certain they could be used the same way. Much like leeks, the outer leaves and ends were very tough, and didn’t seem like they would cook down easily. I was reminded of a mishap I suffered years ago when making a caramelized leek soup. I hadn’t read the recipe carefully, and thus failed to realize that you don’t use the tough, dark green part. (That went a ways toward explaining why I couldn’t get it to caramelize.) At any rate, I consulted my sister (of course), and a couple of foodie friends. They also had never used the big, leeky green garlic. So I decided to wing it and treat them like leeks. I’ll give away the answer: Yes. They are awesome. Instructions below.

* * * * *

There’s a fascinating book by photographer Melanie Dunea called “My Last Supper,” in which Dunea interviews 50 great chefs and asks:

If you were to die tomorrow, what single dish, what one mouthful of food from anywhere in the world or anytime in your life would you choose as your last? What would be your choice for your last meal on earth?

Being a food geek, I was much more interested in the answers than the accompanying portraits (though the pictures, admittedly, are stunning). They ranged from the ostentatious (e.g. Gary Danko) to the elegant (e.g. Nobu—I respect him enough to overlook his desire to listen to a Kenny G CD while eating it). My all-time favorite answer is the one from Eric Ripert, who wants toast with truffles. The reason is made clear in the recipe section at the end of the book (did I mention there are recipes?). He outlines in completely anal-retentive detail how to do everything, even down to the thickness of the bread (1.27 cm), percent acidity of the olive oil (0.3), and why you should use cold butter (so that it doesn’t soak into the bread—thank you!). If anything could cement my not-so-subtle man crush on Eric, it’s this recipe. I love how you can see exactly how much of a control freak this guy is.

Obviously, I’m not a chef. But in the make-believe world in which I’m shooting the shit with Eric Fucking Ripert, my last supper is definitely spaghettini with garlic and oil. I may post about it someday, but honestly I don’t get it right every time. When I figure out how to consistently make it work the way that it does when I have those last supper moments, I’ll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, I felt that the most fitting treatment for my first green garlic experience should be a simple dish with pasta. What I made will not qualify for my last meal on earth. It will, however qualify for many meals between now and the end of May.

* * * * *

Spaghettini with green garlic and oil

1/2 lb thin spaghetti (no. 11)
kosher or sea salt
2 – 3 C chopped green garlic (or about 2 of the big, leeky kind, trimmed and cleaned as described below)
3 T extra virgin olive oil
plenty of freshly cracked black pepper
about 1/2 C beef stock (probably any stock would work here, as long as it doesn’t come from a can—I used beef because I had recently made it.)

Particularly in the Bay area, you can readily find green garlic at farmers markets or Whole Foods right now. I have regularly seen both the baby (green onion-looking) garlic, as well as the large, leekish ones. When scheduling your shopping and cooking, keep in mind that their flavors fade rapidly in the refrigerator. If possible, cook them on the same day. Otherwise, leave them, bulbs down, in a cup or vase of water in the refrigerator and deploy as soon as possible.

Trimming and preparing the green garlic Like I said, I got the bigger kind of green garlic. The first quandary that presented itself to me was: how much of  it should I use? As you can see above (and incidentally, you can click to zoom on any of the pictures in this blog), each plant consists of a bulb, a light green stalk, and darker green leaves alternating from the stalk. Many people, when encountering leeks of similar description, simply look for the border between pale green and dark green on the outside leaf, and make a single cut there through the entire plant. The problem with this strategy is that you then lose a lot of pale green material in the inner leaves. If you need a lot of trimmed leeks, you may, for example, have to monopolize all of the leeks from 2 or 3 different markets in Brooklyn Heights (hypothetically speaking). A better way to deal with this is to systematically cut away only the dark green parts of each leaf, starting from the outside and working your way in. This strategy can also be used with larger green garlic, so that what you are left with is a tapered stalk.

Next, trim the roots from the bottom of the bulb. You’ll then want to clean the garlic, particularly of any dirt that may be stuck between the layers. The way to do this is to make a cut, lengthwise, down the midpoint of the stalk, leaving the bulb intact. Turn the garlic 90 degrees along the axis of the stalk, and make another slit down the middle. You are now left with a bulb attached to streamers that can be splayed out and rinsed in the sink.

At this point you can either chop the garlic, or slice it into larger (say, 1″ long) slivers. It works either way; I think it just depends on what kind of texture you want.

In a large fry pan, sauté the chopped garlic in olive oil over medium-low heat until wilted and beginning to turn golden (about 10 minutes). Use enough oil to comfortably prevent the garlic from drying out, but no more. Add beef stock and deglaze the pan, if necessary. Add lots of black pepper, to taste. Cover the pan and lower heat, cooking until the garlic becomes tender (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat.

Selecting and cooking the pasta I do think the kind of pasta matters. For sauces like this, I am partial to thin noodles, either spaghettini or angel hair. The commonly found store brands I like best are Barilla and De Cecco. In almost all cases, I will go with pasta made from refined semolina flour. In the interest of keeping my daughter healthier than me, I did briefly investigate whole wheat flour pastas. I uniformly hate them. The flavors are not always offensive, but the texture is brittle, and that really kills it for me. (For the record, Esme doesn’t like them, either. She knows what’s up.) A compromise that I have found acceptable is Barilla Plus, which is not a whole grain pasta, but rather one made from refined semolina durum flour enriched with other grains. I find this palatable, but prefer traditional pastas.

Boil the pasta in a medium stockpot with at least a teaspoon salt, and taste often, correcting when appropriate. In this case, I advise seasoning slightly beyond what you feel is necessary, because salt doesn’t dissolve well in oil. Therefore, the garlic is likely to be underseasoned. Your goal here is to cook the pasta just shy of al dente. At that point, drain the noodles and add them to your warmed skillet. Toss until evenly coated with garlic and oil. Add more stock or black pepper, if needed. Continue cooking over medium-low heat until pasta is done.

In the presentation below, I took some optional steps of tossing the pasta in fresh miner’s lettuce and serving with a farm egg that had been slow-poached and quickly seared.

* * * * *

The Esme rating

Note to self: When describing to a 2-year-old child what she is about to eat, do not use the word, “garlic.”

I don’t like garlic, Daddy.
Try it. I think you will.
Noooooooooo.
OK, then do you want to try some crazy Daddy noodles?
Yeah. Can I have some of your noodles, Mommy?
(Esme often confuses Erin and me, and then immediately corrects.) Daddy? (She eats about 10 noodles.)
Esme, do you like your crazy Daddy noodles?
Yeah.
Do you want to eat them again for lunch tomorrow?
I want to eat them … right … noooooooow.
OK, baby. I’ll get you your own plate.

 

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green garlic

trim green garlic
trimmed green garlic

slice green garlic lengthwise

layers of sliced green garlic

spaghettini pasta with green garlic poached egg and miner's lettuce

baby esme smells green garlic

child serving of spaghettini pasta with green garlic and miner's lettuce

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